Can blogs pick up the slack?

May 16th, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Gordon Campbell writes:

To state the bleedingly obvious: the blogosphere does not have the resources to compensate for the reduction in competition (and the loss of journalistic resources) that will be the inevitable outcome of this merger.

Why not? Sure, online startups are lively, thriving and multiplying : there’sScoop, The Spinoff, the Daily Blog, Kiwiblog, the Hard News stable, No Right Turn, The Standard, Pundit, the Dim-Post, Eric Crampton’s Offsetting Behaviour,Paul Buchanan’s 36th Parallel….to name just a few. Theoretically, the merger opens up a market opportunity for them. In reality, all of them will be damaged by the merger.

How come? Well for starters – and as this RNZ report explains here – and also here the blogosphere is poorly positioned to pick up the slack. It is run on a shoestring. It has few resources – or no resources at all, in most cases – to do news gathering. Its strength lies in its analysis and commentary; an essential role that the mainstream media has carried out timidly, or not at all. In other words, a genuine symbiotic relationship currently exists between the blogosphere and the traditional media. We rely on their news gathering and increasingly, they rely on our analysis and commentary. So… if there’s a decline in news gathering capacity, this will damage the ability of the blogosphere to carry out its valuable contribution to the public discourse.

I don’t disagree with what Gordon has said, and I’m not keen on the merger. But change can create opportunities.

The main media websites do very well at reporting news, and other sites do very well at analysis. Not just blogs, but NBR is very good at that, and I regard the best political analysis in NZ (by a wide margin) to be Richard Harman’s Politik newsletter.

But I have been thinking about what I would do if Stuff and NZ Herald combine and go behind a paywall. The initial impact would be a hassle. Rather than quote stories from their sites, and comment on them, I’d might have to use other sites such as Radio NZ or Newshub. But they have far fewer stories.

But the other thing I can do is start reporting the news more directly. 80% of stories seem to originate for PRs. I know this as I now get all the PRs. They tend to go into a folder I check once a day or so (if I have time). It is rare I’ll do a story based on a PR, as easier to quote a media story already summarising it.

But if two million NZers get blocked from most content on the Herald and Stuff sites, they’ll look elsewhere for it. I doubt many will pay for it.

I could hire someone to write a few news stories a day on interesting NZ issues. I already have good sources for overseas news.

I could also hire someone to cover parliamentary news and try and get them accredited to the press gallery. The gallery may not like it, but if they are going to hire most of their content behind paywalls, they’ll look bloody awful if they try to block a site willing to publish it freely from being able to access Parliament.

I’m not going to rush into anything, but if the merger goes ahead and the two main media websites combined and go behind a paywall, I will seriously look at whether I can grab a reasonable portion of their two million readers.

Gordon Campbell against Uber

June 28th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Gordon Campbell writes:

It would be nice to think that California – the home state of Hollywood – may have finally and decisively overturned the “contractor” fiction through which the likes of Uber and the film industry continue to exploit their workers. Uber and Warners do like to portray themselves as being at the forefront of technological innovation and business excellence. Well, it’s the 21st century, guys. Maybe its time you stopped making your employees accept 19th century work conditions as the basis for keeping their jobs. Basically, if your business model depends on offloading your own legitimate costs onto your workforce, then maybe the model doesn’t deserve to endure.

So Gordon Campbell thinks the Uber model does not deserve to endure. Has he not noticed that many taxi drivers are flocking to Uber because they earn much more money with Uber, as Uber doesn’t have huge sign up fees, or costs. They’re often better off. But Gordon, like many on the left, don’t like anyone being contractors.

This is going to be a good test for Labour’s Future of Work Commission. The future of work is companies like Uber allowing people to be contractors and private drivers. Uber would die if they were forced to become employers, rather than merely a booking app.

Will Labour come up with policies that reflect the 21st century? Flexibility is what the 21st century is about, not forcing everyone to be an employee.

Herald, ODT and Gordon Campbell on Cunliffe

June 20th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

The Labour Party says it has no record of any contributions from him but there is more than one way to donate to a party. At a Labour fundraising auction in 2007 Mr Liu bought a book signed by Helen Clark for which, the Herald’s sources say, he paid $15,000. The same year he paid an unknown large sum for a bottle of wine at a fundraiser.

Mr Cunliffe, who became Immigration Minister in 2006, claimed this week that not only had he never advocated for Mr Liu in an immigration application but had never met him. Now that the first claim has proven false, the second takes on a different hue. Sadly, it is all too likely that an MP could write in support of an application for an immigrant he had never met.

But none of this matters as much as the word of a party leader bidding to be Prime Minister in a few months. Mr Cunliffe cannot afford to fall from his high horse more than once. This denial might not force his resignation or ouster but it has done Labour no favours. Next time its leader puts on his scolding face, it will be less convincing. That is the price he has paid.

Gordon Campbell is more harsh:

Who knew that David Cunliffe’s speech to last year’s Labour Party conference was not a new beginning, but the last gasp of the credible phase of his leadership? In itself, his 2003 letter to the Immigration Service was innocuous. Yet only a Jesuit could make the fine distinction that Labour is now trying to make between Cunliffe’s inquiry about how long Donghua Liu’s residency application was taking, and outright “advocacy” for that application to be approved. Not surprisingly, such letters are seen by officials as “hurry up” reminders, and are intended to serve as such. This was advocacy; the same advocacy that Cunliffe had just this week denied ever making. Probably he did so unknowingly. Either way though – fool or knave – it’s not a good look.

The inability of Cunliffe and his staff to adequately research Cunliffe’s track record with Liu is also lamentable – especially given that photos of Labour MPs in the friendly company of Liu had already emerged. Yet earlier this week, Cunliffe had been left to paint himself into a corner of denial, only to be sandbagged by the revelation of the letter’s existence. As yet, we are still reliant on Labour Party researchers to verify whether Labour did or didn’t receive a sizeable donation from Liu. It should be remembered that National Cabinet Minister Maurice Williamson resigned because of his meddling in a Police investigation and not over a donations scandal, per se. Yet Labour had gone on to use the meddling/donation link to Liu as ammunition in its general attack on National and its fat cat donors. All it will take now is evidence of a donation from Liu to Labour to put the noose firmly around Labour’s neck.

Clearly, Cunliffe is now virtually a spent force as Labour leader.

Campbell is not so keen on Labour’s next leader:

There is no visible alternative. Grant Robertson is cut from the same hyper-calculating, micro-positioning cloth. What really ails Labour is that it is a centre left party whose parliamentary caucus is terrified – literally terrified – of its own left wing shadow.

Also the ODT editorial:

The grubby pit of current New Zealand politics became even more distasteful yesterday when it was revealed Labour leader David Cunliffe appeared guilty of the actions of which he had accused his National Party opponents.

Despite his denials at a hastily-called press conference, a letter signed by Mr Cunliffe, as MP for New Lynn, shows he advocated for businessman Donghua Liu in a letter to immigration officials, contradicting earlier assurances he had not lobbied for the political donor. …

Labour MPs will be discussing the situation intensely, given the party’s ongoing poor showing in the polls and Mr Cunliffe’s personal polling, and now credibility, sinking lower by the week. …

Morally, Mr Cunliffe should resign as soon as possible, but unless someone taps him on the shoulder to take over the poisoned chalice which is the leadership of Labour, he seems likely to stay on and ride out the controversy until the September 20 election.

And then the ABCs will strike.


August 14th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar
  1. Graeme Edgeler fisks Gordon Campbell multiple times
  2. Stats Chat fisks Stuff for saying pet owners have a 29 fold increased risk of breast cancer

Ranking Labour’s frontbench

November 16th, 2012 at 4:15 pm by David Farrar

NZ Herald Vice Political Editor Claire Trevett profiles David Shearer and ranks the front bench performance. The scores:

  • Grant Robertson 8
  • Phil Twyford 8
  • David Cunliffe 7
  • Maryan Street 6
  • David Parker 6
  • Jacinda Ardern 6
  • David Shearer 6
  • Clayton Cosgrove 5
  • Nanaia Mahuta 4
  • Su’a William Sio 3
  • Shane Jones – Hon Mention
I didn’t realise Sio was on their front bench!
The Camp Robertsons and Camp Cunliffes will be pleased with their ratings.
As with National’s rankings, I thought a few were on the generous side, but not much to disagree with in terms of the relative scores here.
The Dom Post editorial is on Shearer:
When Labour Party members gather in Auckland tonight for the opening of their annual conference, the one topic on everyone’s lips will be the one topic that is not on the agenda paper: David Shearer’s leadership. …
To say Mr Shearer’s first 11 months in the job have been underwhelming is an understatement. Confronted by television cameras and microphones, he is rendered incoherent unless he has previously learnt his lines, no one has got a clue what Labour stands for and his senior MPs are being allowed to idle away their days. It is no surprise, therefore, that supporters of defeated leadership candidate David Cunliffe continue to agitate on his behalf, or that Mr Cunliffe continues to make pronouncements that fuel speculation about his intentions. ….
The choice for Labour is between a green leader who is struggling, a proven ministerial performer who is disliked by his colleagues and two unknown quantities.

In the circumstances, the best course is to do nothing, until Mr Cunliffe wins the trust of his colleagues or one or the other of Mr Shearer, Mr Robertson or Mr Little articulates a vision that voters can buy into.

I am sure vision statements are being worked on!

Gordon Campbell at Scoop also writes:

 With that limited agenda, all Shearer can hope to achieve this weekend is to offer the party re-assurance that he can be a competent steward of (a) the internal democratization of the party (b) Labour’s core values and (c) his own parliamentary caucus.

That last one is going to be hardest. This Labour caucus deserves to hang together and not just its leader, separately. If Shearer has under-achieved, so has his team – not only vis-à-vis the government, but in comparison to the Greens. At the same time, the likes of Shane Jones have been allowed to run amuck across the portfolio areas of his own colleagues, in order to launch wild attacks on the one coalition partner that Labour desperately needs in order to govern.

If Shearer wants to convince the country that he has steel in his backbone, he could start by whipping his own caucus into line, and requiring them to lift their game. Right now…does anyone really think that the Labour front bench would be performing any better, and would be any more internally united, under a David Cunliffe or a Grant Robertson? Not really. Currently, Labour’s problems ran far deeper than the man at the top, and shuffling the leadership deck now would be cosmetic. The evaluation should come in May of next year. That will have given Shearer a further three months in Parliamentary battle to define himself and to get traction – while still leaving any new leader about 16 months before the next election.

I agree May 2013 is a fairer date to evaluate how things are going, rather than between now and the scheduled vote in February 2013.

Campbell on Shearer

October 30th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Gordon Campbell writes in The Wellingtonian:

All year, David Shearer’s strategists have been claiming that as New Zealanders gradually get to know him, they will come to like what they see.

Instead, what seems to be happening is that voters are going through periodic fits of disenchantment with the government and then looking more closely at the alternative, only to rebound in alarm.

So far, Shearer has simply failed to make the case that he could lead a credible alternative government.

And it would be a very complicated Labour-Greens-NZ First-Mana Government with the major party being weaker in electoral terms than in any other Government. This means diminished ability to impose or even negotiate an agenda.

Yet by the same token, every time the Key government has got itself into trouble this year, a few rogue elements in the Labour caucus (eg, Trevor Mallard, Shane Jones) have proceeded to score an own goal, and create doubt about Labour’s competence and coherence.

This would suggests that Shearer’s flaws go beyond his public failure to be forceful and articulate, and extend to an inability to devise a consistent opposition strategy and ensure that his team sticks to it.

Recently, the Labour-leaning website The Standard listed the year’s roll call of self-inflicted damage: from Mallard’s ticket scalping debacle, to Shearer’s speech about the beneficiary on the roof, to Jones’ recent attacks on the Greens on behalf of his campaign donor, Sealords.

It was an impressively long list.

Merely replacing Shearer with his deputy Grant Robertson would seem unlikely to improve matters.

Robertson and his electorate team are already well represented among Shearer’s advisers, and thus seem more part of the problem than the solution.

So Gordon Campbell seems to be in Camp Cunliffe.

Armstrong fires back

September 15th, 2012 at 7:53 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

Here is a blunt message for a couple of old-school Aro Valley-style socialists:

Get off our backs. Stop behaving like a pair of tut-tutting old dowagers gossiping in the salons. In short, stop making blinkered, cheap-shot accusations of the kind you made this week – that the media who went with John Key to Vladivostok and Tokyo concentrated on trivia, interviewed their laptops and parroted Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet press releases. …

Do the likes of former Listener columnist and Greens propagandist Gordon Campbell and former Alliance staffer and now Otago University politics lecturer Bryce Edwards have the faintest idea of the difficulties, obstacles and logistics of reporting an overseas trip by a prime minister, especially one which incorporates a major international forum like Apec?

Does it occur to them to actually pick up the phone and try to talk to those journalists about what is happening and why things are being reported in a certain way?

Of course not. That would risk the facts getting in the way of, well … interviewing their laptops and having yet another ritual poke at the parliamentary press gallery.

To read their drivel while stuck in a Tokyo traffic jam with your deadline approaching faster than a Japanese bullet-train makes your heart sink. …

But never mind. The rules that apply to journalists in terms of accuracy do not apply to Campbell and his echo chamber Dr Edwards – who is not be confused with Dr Brian Edwards, another blogger, but a far more original one when it comes to ideas and analysis.

Bloggers can blog when they like at what length they wish. Admittedly, they are normally not being paid for the privilege. Journalists are. But on a trip like last week’s one, the hourly rate slumps drastically by virtue of the hours worked.

Few media representatives travelling with John Key would have got more than four or five hours’ sleep each night – probably less – because of the Prime Minister’s schedule, which ran from 6am (earlier if a flight was involved) until well into the evening.

Days were spent clambering on and off buses in 35C heat and 100 per cent humidity.

Time has to be found within that schedule to write news stories and other articles – but not just for the following day’s newspaper. News organisation’s websites have to fed – especially if there is “breaking” news.

Deadlines in Asia are punishing, as countries such as Japan are three hours behind New Zealand, meaning deadlines are effectively even tighter.

Then there is the no small matter of filing stories back home. Equipment breaks down, mobile phones that are supposed to be in harmony with Japan’s system turn out not to be.

To Campbell’s credit, he does do his own digging. He is also a regular attendee at the Prime Minister’s weekly press conference. His blog is one of the more valuable. But he does have a blind spot with regards to the press gallery.

The rapidly growing influence of Edwards’ blog was initially down to its being an exhaustive wrap-up of all of the day’s political news. It is now starting to develop a much more political dynamic that is unlikely to please National.

Edwards’ blog is the extreme example of the fact that most blogsites rely on the mainstream media for their information and then use that information to criticise the media for not stressing something enough or deliberately hiding it.

Unlike the mainstream media, the blogs are not subject to accuracy or taste – and sometimes even the law.

It is the ultimate parasitical relationship. And it will not change until the media start charging for use of their material.

Monday’s media summary by Bryce will be an interesting read.

For my 2c I think John makes a very fair point about the reality of being a working journalist on on overseas trip, and the coverage of issues.

To be fair to Edwards, what he does everyday is not so much about blogging. His summary was originally circualated by e-mail, and it was his collection of links that people most valued. I know, as I sponsored it.

Since then his narrative around the day’s stories has become more prominent, and that is what most now read. Few actually read it I suspect on Bryce’s blog. Most I’d say read it off the NZ Herald and NBR websites, who as I understand it pay Bryce for his work – so not quite an unpaid blogger!

Campbell on Greens and National

November 8th, 2011 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Gordon Campbell (a former Green press secretary) has an extremely insightful column at Scoop on the Greens:

Let’s assume for instance, that once the election dust settles Prime Minister John Key will offer – in the name of broad church, representative politics and a desire to split the centre left vote in order to ensure his thirdterm – a couple of ministerial posts outside Cabinet to the Greens.

No strings attached. Something ministerial for Russel Norman say, in the Conservation/Environment era, and an associate Health post for his colleague Metiria Turei, where she could work alongside Tariana Turia. What would the Greens do if such an offer is made? What should they do?

I think there would be some strings attached. At a minimum it would be that those who are Ministers abstain on supply and confidence. A Minister can not vote against confidence in an Executive they are part of.

The Greens have been out of real power for 12 years. Helen Clark spurned the Greens after the 2005 election, and chose to go with Peters instead. As a junior player on the centre left, the Greens traditional role is to wait in the parlour until Labour brings home the election bacon. Yet Labour can only govern when Labour is in the ascendancy on the centre left, which usually means the Greens will have been reduced to hovering just above the 5% threshold. Perversely, in years (such as 2011) when the centre left vote goes to the Greens in large numbers, it is in a context where the Greens can’t be in government, not in any significant way.

That’s the Greens dilemma, in a nutshell. It may say that it is centrist – and it has been saying so for some time – but relatively few voters see it as such. And thus it remains in its current bind – strong when there is little chance of it governing, and able to join a centre left government only when it is in a position of relative weakness vis-a-vis Labour. And regrettably, Labour tends to treat the Greens like an abused spouse in those circumstances.

This is exactly the problem. The Greens get their votes from Labour when Labour are weak, hence a Labour-led Government will not generally occur when the Greens are strong.  And then when the Greens are weaker, Labour pisses all over them, and chooses Winston Peters and Peter Dunne over them.

That’s the basic argument for making a dramatic break away from the centre left and heading into unknown territory. Arguably, it is only by reaching some meaningful form of co-existence with National (beyond home insulation) that the Greens can break the mould, and put itself in a position where it could hope to poach votes from National in large numbers ( and not just from despondent Labour voters) to add to its core support.

If the Greens want to be able to grab significant numbers from National, they need to show they can work with National, beyond the current arrangement.

If the Greens did try to break out of their current ghetto would that pose a substantial risk to the brand? Absolutely. Political virginity is a valuable commodity, and one reason for the Greens’ longevity is that it has stayed away – or has been kept away – from the boiler room of executive power. The party strategists have also noticed the fate of others before them. Notably, the Maori Party has tried to make gains for a far more defined constituency than the one served by the Greens. If it is that hard for the Maori Party, how hard could it be for the Greens? Very hard indeed.

It is definitely a risk. One way to mitigate the risk (and I recommend this to all minor parties) is do not have your leader or all your leaders become Ministers. You need a leader to remain outside the Ministry so they can provide the political leadership to their party. If they are spending all their time signing off departmental papers, they are not making the constant case for support.

So if I was the Greens I’d push for an economic role for Norman and a health role for Hague, and keep Turei to fly the flag outside the Ministry.

So… even as Labour flounders and the Greens pick up the flotsam and jetsam from the good ship SS Goff, a lot of hard decisions lie in wait further down the track. The Greens’ current place on the political spectrum simply doesn’t allow them to harvest a big enough vote on the centre left to enable an escape from their current dependency on Labour which – on past performance – will treat them like deckhands once Labour is back on the quarterdeck again. Whatever the risks, it strikes me as unlikely that Russel Norman will be willing to tolerate subservience, in perpetuity.

As I said, Gordon Campbell has done a very nice job looking at the pros and cons.

Campbell on Goff

November 3rd, 2011 at 12:12 pm by David Farrar

I think it is safe to say that Gordon Campbell is not a right wing commentator or a former staffer for Jenny Shipley. He may of course be a member of the VRWNLLWC, but isn’t everyone. Here’s his opening lines today:

Any points Phil Goff may have won in the television debate a few days ago went west during last night’s public debate in Christchurch – which, as Vernon Small says, had turned into something close to a rout by night’s end.

The centre-left can feel justifiably furious at Goff and his minders for going into this debate without a narrative (much less a credible defence) for Labour’s election costings. Sorry, but “We’ll have them for you by the end of the week” doesn’t really cut it.

The problem with Labour is their tax cuts for everyone policy. It will require borrowing for the next six to seven years unless they cut spending elsewhere to pay for it.

Did you know under Labour’s tax policy, 40 out of the 43 Labour MPs will get an income tax cut? Yes, seriously. They are promising to borrow money for tax cuts. And this is based on their own costings.

My prediction on how Labour will suddenly balance their books? Look for them to find a way to get businesses to pay for it. For example, with some tweaking you can make money out of the ETS, so that businesses and hence consumers will pay for Labour’s tax cuts and spending promises.

The other way they might try and make their books balance is to assign their spending promises to the “future contingency” allowances in the Budget. Now this is legitimate to do to a point. But it loses credibility if you assign too high a proportion of the contingency allowance in advance, as that is saying there will be no room for any other spending in the next x years, such as public sector payrises.


Campbell on Artists v Journalists & Bloggers

January 31st, 2011 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Gordon Campbell writes at Scoop on the Government’s response to the jailing of Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi. He quotes the letter from Chris Finlayson which says:

We also raise the human rights situation in Iran in statements at the United Nations, including cosponsoring the UNGA 3rd Committee Resolution on Iran’s Human Rights. We will continue to express our concern at restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Iran, including the imprisonment of journalists, bloggers, and filmmakers such as Mr Panahi.

Now Gordon may be quite right to criticise the Government for relying on statements at the UN to improve human rights in Iran. But here’s what Gordon says in his critique of the Govt’s response:

Finlayson apparently believes Panahi’s case is not exceptional, nor his treatment particularly egregious. In fact, we appear to have an Arts Minister unable to tell the difference between an artist of Panahi’s stature, and journalists and bloggers.

Oh goodness – what an insight into the Wellington cultural mindset. Governments shouldn’t do anything beyond the normal statements at the UN to protest against jailing of journalists and bloggers, but when the detainee is an “artist of stature”, then they must move mountains.

Is this attitude linked to the leave Roman Polanski alone movement, because he is also an “artist”.

Personally as a blogger, I’m rather glad Chris doesn’t see bloggers and journalists as less deserving of freedom from detention, than artists of stature.

Campbell interviews Goff

July 15th, 2009 at 12:54 pm by David Farrar

This is a few days old now, but the Gordon Campbell interview with Phil Goff is worth a read. Some extracts:

Hang around in the leadership of National or Labour long enough, and chances are you will become Prime Minister. Don Brash, Bill English, Jim McLay, John Marshall – in the last 40 years, you can count on one hand the major party leaders who haven’t ended up running the country, and they’ve all been Tories.

History then, would seem to be on Phil Goff’s side. Yet despite his long ascent – he was a Cabinet Minister eleven years before John Key joined Merrill Lynch – the public still seems to lack a strong sense of his identity.

That is an interesting comparison – a Minister 11 years before Key started work at Merrill Lynch. Goff by 2011 will have spent 75% of his post univerisyt life as an MP.

The point Campbell makes about not having a strong sense of Goff’s identity is basically the same as I made a few weeks ago – people want to know more about who Phill Goff is, and what he believes in.

Only part of this (admitted) image deficit can be attributed to the daisy chain of personas that Goff has gone through, each one with indefatigible sincerity, on his way to the top. From student radical to fervent Rogernome to faithful lieutenant of Helen Clark and Michael Cullen, Goff has been a fount of boundless, and fairly imposing, pragmatism. He just never stops.

Goff voted to lower the top tax rate from 66c to 33c and then to increase it again to 39c. What does he really think the top tax rate should be?

Campbell: If you’re not an ideologue, people can still validly say that you’re something of a chameleon. You were a student radical, you became an enthusiastic Roger Douglas supporter, and now you’re mainstream centre left. Does Phil Goff have an identity problem ?

Goff : No. Was it Keynes who said that when accused of changing his position he said ‘Yes, the facts disproved what I used to do, so I changed my mind.’ What do you do ? I think that’s a very appropriate response. My value system, I don’t think, has changed a great deal. Go back and read my Youth Reports, as president of the Labour Youth Movement, to conference.

A chocolate fish for the reader who can find and send me those reports!

Yeah, I’ve changed some of my ideas. Muldoon helped me a lot. He changed my idea of wage/price/rent/profit fixing, rather than allowing the market to determine these things. And protectionism. I don’t believe those things as a means to an end anymore. I also believe that in the current crisis the concept of the self regulating market – which I have never promoted as a concept, myself – has equally been disproved. The truth lies somewhere in between. I believe in the market mechanism, but I don’t believe the market mechanism provides fairness, as an outcome. Nor does the unregulated market always provide the outcome you’re looking for

Nice that Muldoon was good for something.

Campbell : So back then, where were you when it came to the December 17, 1987 package that caused such a ruckus in the Lange government ?

Goff : I wasn’t in the notorious photo, you might recall. I was pretty much focussed on the portfolio responsibilities I had.

Avoiding the question of how he voted in Cabinet on it.

Campbell : So to be clear – on the social outcomes, you thought that Douglas was wrong ?

Goff : I have never wavered from my view – and I ended up as Minister of Education, inheriting Lange’s portfolio, ironically – or from Fraser’s view, that the goal of your education system is to ensure that every child, regardless of what part of the society he or she comes from, can achieve to their full potential.

This is from the Education Minister who introduced non-trivial tertiary fees for students?

Campbell : So in what ways would a Goff government differ fom what we got from the last Labour government? Presumably. it would be more than Helenism with a Y chromosome.

Goff : I was entirely comfortable with what the last Labour government did. As I say, there were a number of things with political implications that we misread. I think we misread what the impact of section 59 would be. It wasn’t that the decision was wrong – it was that decision was always liable to be heavily exploited [to argue] that this is a nanny state government. I’m not sure that the positives we created…(pauses) I voted for the change, and don’t apologise for voting for that change. It has not done what the opponents of it said it would do.

In other words, we did nothing wrong.

How I would do representation in Auckland

April 2nd, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

I’ve spent a bit of time discussing parts of the Royal Commission report that are not that flash (I should note I am a strong supporter of the overall direction of one Council and an elected Mayor with enhanced powers), so here is where I spell out what I would do.

First of all I would scrap the at large seats, or at least reduce their number. Ten at large seats is a huge amount and what it means is that you may have say 50 people standing for 10 positions, and in that scenario it becomes name recognition only – not informed decision making.

It also means that an area such as Manukau could end up with only 2 Councillors out of 23, despite being 30% of the Region.

Plus it will be confusing to have people vote for three sets of Councillors – local Councillors, ward Councillors on Auckland Council and at large Councillors on Auckland Council.

No Right Turn has a model that works well with no at large, and 1 to 6 Councillors per ward, which has equality of representation.

My second decision would be to have local Council boundaries and Ward boundaries the same. The Royal Commission allows them to be different which is confusing.

My third decision would be to have more, yet smaller, local Councils (and in fact don’t call them Councils as that confuses them with the Auckland Council, so I will call them Local Boards).

The local boards should be small enough to not need further wards underneath them. I quite like the 11 council/board option in the RC report.

If you had 11 smaller boards and wards, then each of them could elect two Councillors each (if their boundaries were adjusted so populations were similar enough) to the Auckland Council. And each of them would have perhaps just half a dozen members.

Finally you have the Maori reps. Putting aside my personal views that long-term these take us down the wrong path, I think it is inevitable the Council will have some as they have been recommended. But under the current proposal, their number is way too high as you have one per 30,000 residents compared to one per 120,000 in the main wards.

However if one gets rid of the at large seats, then the correct number of Maori seats would be around 1.5 – so say two Councillors elected off the Maori roll. I don’t think mana whenua should directly appoint a Councillor, but can live with a Maori roll election as we do have the precedent.

So in total my principles would be:

  1. Abolish at large Councillors
  2. Ward boundaries for Auckland Council should match local Council/Board boundaries
  3. Have more, smaller local Councils/Boards
  4. Have local Councils/Boards small enough so that they in turn do not need another set of wards beneath them
  5. Have a Maori roll ward with one or two Crs, but do not have direct appointment by mana whenua

As I said I am supportive of most of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, but the representation model they have devised is one that can be improved upon – in my opinion.

MPs survey of the media

September 29th, 2008 at 3:20 pm by David Farrar

Last week I set up an online survey for MPs, asking them to rate various media organisations and senior gallery journalists on a scale of 0 to 10. Just under one quarter of MPs responded, and the results are shown below.

As the media often rate how well MPs are doing, I thought it appropriate to reverse this and ask the questions in reverse. The media are a hugely powerful filter, and it is appropriate (in my opinion) to have some focus on how well they are perceived to be performing.

The questions were:

  1. For each media organisation please give them a rating from 0 to 10 for how well you think they do in their parliamentary reporting. This should take account of all relevant factors – accuracy, fairness, thoroughness, relevance, substance etc.
  2. Now for some individual senior members of the press gallery, please rate from 0 to 10 how well you think they perform at proving fair, accurate, unbiased and informative reporting on Parliament. You can skip any that you do not feel able to rate.
  3. Finally can you indicate your party grouping as National, Labour or Other. Your individual identity is not sought by us, and we have no way or interest in identifying individual respondents. However we would like to summarise results for all MPs and by the three groupings to see if they vary by party grouping.

It is important that these be read in context, so make the following points:

  1. This is the opinion of MPs only. It does not set out to be an objective rating, and should not be seen as such.
  2. MPs get reported on by the gallery. While this makes them the group of NZers potentially best able to have an informed opinion on the media (which is why I surveyed them), it also gives them a conflict of interest. MPs may score journalists lowly due to personal run ins with them, or the fact they are too good at their job! This should be borne in mind.
  3. I only e-mailed the survey to the 121 MPs, but it is possible that one or more responses was filled in by a staff member who has access to the MPs mailbox. I think this is unlikely, as most staff are very professional. However MPs were not required to prove their identity to vote, as confidentiality of individual responses was important. You need to know the Survey URL to be able to vote.
  4. National MPs made up 43% of responses, slightly above their numbers in Parliament. Minor Party MPs were also slightly over-represented, Labour MPs under-represented and some MPs did not give a party identification.
Media Mean Median Mode Minimum Maximum Range
NZ Press Assn 6.1 6 6 4 9 5
Newsroom 5.8 6 5 1 10 9
Trans-Tasman 5.5 6 6 0 8 8
NZ Herald 5.3 6 6 0 8 8
Scoop 5.2 5 5 0 10 10
Newstalk ZB 5.1 6 7 1 8 7
Listener 5.0 5 3 1 8 7
NBR 4.9 4 4 1 8 7
Radio NZ 4.8 6 3 1 9 8
Radio Live 4.4 5 1 1 8 7
Sky/Prime News 4.3 5 5 0 7 7
The Press 4.2 5 1 1 7 6
TV Three 4.1 5 6 0 8 8
Dominion Post 4.1 4.5 1 1 7 6
TV One 3.9 5 5 0 6 6
Maori TV 3.7 4 5 0 6 6
Herald on Sunday 3.5 3.5 7 0 7 7
Sunday Star-Times 2.7 3 3 0 5 5

NZ Press Association tops the rankings with a mean or average 6.1 rating – and received no very low ratings from anyone. The two Internet agencies were in the top five, indicating MPs like the fact their releases are carried in full. Trans-Tasman also does well.

Television generally gets ranked lowly with all four stations in the bottom half. Sky News actually ranks highest.

Radio is middle of the field with NewstalkZB being the highest ranked radio broadcaster.

The newspapers range the spectrum. The NZ Herald is up at 5.3, Press at 4.2 and Dom Post at 4.1. I would have them all higher, but this is a survey of MPs, not of my views.

Now the sample sizes are of course very small (but of a limited population) but let us look at how National MPs ranked media compared to all the other MPs:

Media All Mean Nats Mean Others Mean Difference
TV One 3.9 6.3 2.2 4.2
TV Three 4.1 6.2 2.6 3.6
Maori TV 3.7 5.2 2.5 2.7
Sky/Prime News 4.3 5.5 3.3 2.2
Sunday Star-Times 2.7 3.5 2.1 1.4
Radio Live 4.4 4.8 4.2 0.6
Radio NZ 4.8 5.0 4.6 0.4
Dominion Post 4.1 4.2 4.0 0.2
Herald on Sunday 3.5 3.5 3.5 0.0
Newstalk ZB 5.1 4.8 5.4 -0.6
The Press 4.2 3.8 4.6 -0.8
NZ Herald 5.3 4.2 6.1 -1.9
NBR 4.9 3.3 6.1 -2.8
Listener 5.0 3.3 6.3 -3.0
NZ Press Assn 6.1 4.3 7.4 -3.1
Trans-Tasman 5.5 3.3 7.1 -3.8
Scoop 5.2 2.8 7.0 -4.2
Newsroom 5.8 3.0 8.0 -5.0

National MPs ranked the four TV channels much higher than other MPs did. Maybe this is minor parties upset that they do not get on TV much?

Despite the generally accepted lean to the left of Radio NZ, National MPs ranked Radio NZ higher than other MPs did. And while some on the left attack the NZ Herald at favouring National, National MPs actually ranked them lower than other MPs did. The Listener and NBR also get accused of leaning right, but again get ranked lower by National MPs.

The Nat MPs also rated the online media very lowly.

Now the journalists. I decided not to list all members of the press gallery, but only those who are relatively senior, and are more likely to have a reasonable number of MPs have formed opinions about them. Looking back I could have included more.

If any journalist is unhappy about being missed out, happy to include you next year. Now again it is worth remembering these are only the opinions of those MPs who responded to my survey – it is not an objective rating.

Journalist Mean Median Mode Minimum Maximum Range
John Armstrong (NZH) 6.4 7 2 2 10 8
Peter Wilson (NZPA) 5.8 5 5 3 8 5
Audrey Young (NZH) 5.7 6.5 7 0 10 10
Ian Templeton (TT) 5.6 7 7 0 9 9
Jane Clifton (Listener) 5.6 6 6 2 9 7
Barry Soper (Sky & ZB) 4.9 5.5 7 1 9 8
Ian Llewellyn (NZPA) 4.9 5 5 1 8 7
Vernon Small (DP) 4.6 5 6 1 8 7
Colin Espiner (Press) 4.5 5 6 0 8 8
Guyon Espiner (TV1) 4.4 5.5 7 0 7 7
Tim Donoghue (DP) 4.1 4.5 2 1 9 8
Brent Edwards (RNZ) 4.1 4 4 0 7 7
Tracy Watkins (DP) 3.8 4.5 6 0 7 7
Duncan Garner (TV3) 3.7 3.5 3 0 8 8
Gordon Campbell (Scoop) 3.6 5 5 0 7 7
Ruth Laugeson (SST) 2.7 2.5 2 0 6 6

John Armstrong tops the ratings, followed by the NZPA Political Editor Peter Wilson. Generally MPs ranked journalists slightly higher than media organisations. As can be seen by the minimum ratings showing, some MPs were very harsh handing out zeroes. Did WInston multiple vote? 🙂 (Note I have no idea if Winston did vote)

And once again we compare responses between National MPs and other MPs.

Journalist All Mean Nats Mean Others Mean Difference
Laugeson 2.7 4.2 1.6 2.6
Clifton 5.6 7.0 4.5 2.5
Soper 4.9 6.2 4.0 2.2
Campbell 3.6 4.8 2.8 2.0
Edwards 4.1 4.8 3.5 1.3
Llewellyn 4.9 5.2 4.7 0.5
Young 5.7 6.0 5.5 0.5
Garner 3.7 3.5 3.9 -0.4
Espiner G 4.4 4.2 4.6 -0.4
Wilson 5.8 5.5 6.0 -0.5
Armstrong 6.4 6.0 6.8 -0.8
Watkins 3.8 3.0 4.4 -1.4
Donoghue 4.1 3.2 4.9 -1.7
Small 4.6 3.2 5.6 -2.4
Espiner C 4.5 2.8 5.8 -3.0
Templeton 5.6 1.8 8.5 -6.7

Again very interesting. The SST is generally seen as hostile to National, but Ruth Laugeson is ranked much higher by National MPs, than by other MPs. Likewise the Gordon Campbell and Brent Edwards (both left leaning) are ranked higher by National MPs than other MPs.

Also for some reasons National MPs ranked Ian Templeton very lowly. Maybe they don’t like his weekly chats with Clark and Key, ignoring the lesser MPs?

Scoop’s Campbell on Privileges

September 10th, 2008 at 2:13 pm by David Farrar

Some good analysis from Gordon Campbell at Scoop:

With hindsight – or even you’d think, with foresight – it was not a great idea for Michael Cullen to be leading the Labour bloc’s attempt to dent Owen Glenn’s testimony to the privileges committee. It only made Cullen, Russell Fairbrother, and Paul Swain look like they were doing legal work for Winston Peters pro bono, by challenging Glenn’s powers of recall. That is not the position the Clark government should be taking, right now.

Yes the pro bono legal team for Peters, I like it.

Wheeling up Cullen, Labour’s big gun and deputy chair of the privileges committee for the task of trying to trip up Glenn’s recall and command of detail only had a vague chance of triggering a meltdown – or boilover – from the billionaire witness. Tackling Glenn about who phoned who and spoke to whom back in 2005 also never looked like overturning the basic issue of whether Peters had gone out actively soliciting the money. The Labour effort just looked like nitpicking, or worse.

Cullen spent minutes obsessed over whether Glenn called Peters back or Peters called again in relation to an earlier phone call (not the one that triggered the donation).

Being faithful to the laws of natural justice and due process is all very well. Yet the government’s fidelity to Peters is starting to look suicidal and willful. Leave it too late – and we have probably gone past that point already – and sacking Peters will just look like rats leaving a sinking ship.

The Government could have established the truth about this issue many months ago. They have no one to blame for dragging it out, but themselves.

That was why the Glenn appearance in person, was so crucial. Before then, there was still an outside chance that the committee could be plausibly uncertain on the issue of credibility between Peters and Glenn. If so, the committee’s findings would have split along party lines – thus leaving Peters an escape route with the voters. Not any more. The balance of credibility has tilted decisively, in Glenn’s favour.

Yep. Even Helen is backing away her preposterous “innocent explanation” stance.

Barring miracles from Peters in his rebuttal testimony tonight, this episode is all but over. What Glenn produced was a timeline fleshed out by email and telephone records. While those records were incomplete on certain fine points – as in, was it Peters ‘or someone from New Zealand First’ who contacted Glenn in late November 2005 ? But from then on through the crucial period in December 2005, Glenn’s oral evidence and supportive email/telephone records were credible, and utterly damning to Peters.


By way of collateral damage, the Glenn testimony has heightened the prospect of Clark being asked to appear before the privileges committee.

She should be asked to appear, so she can testify whether or not Mike Williams had any discussions with her at all in 2005 over the desirability of Owen Glenn helping out NZ First and/or Winston Peters.

The Glenn testimony also achieved what the partisan politicking by National could not do. It has linked the Peters affair to Labour in detail and in spirit, and has made the government’s behaviour towards one of its main party donors look desperately shabby. As Glenn told John Campbell on TV3, these are not the sort of people you’d want alongside you in the trenches. Because they would push you out.

And probably gnaw on your bones afterwards!

In December 2005, Williams may have given a green light for the donation only in general terms, and was almost certainly not privy to the subsequent transaction – but this happened in circumstances where he would have been fairly sure the transaction would proceed The nature of the nine floor gossip mill also makes it inconceivable that the upper echelons of the government’s parliamentary wing would not have subsequently known informally about the Glenn donation to Peters …

Of course. Williams hold back on details of donors to Labour, but something affecting a parliamentary partner would be notified to the leadership.

… the subsequent tactical choice by Labour to try and denigrate Glenn is unfortunately, all too typical. Someone, someday may make a list of the people the Labour government has abandoned over the course of this decade in the name of expediency, and its own survival. Karmically, one of those people who was being fitted for the dud parachute has now struck back. Winston, barring miracles, will be the next to be jettisoned.

That would be a long list.

The Immigration Bill and torture

July 10th, 2008 at 10:23 am by David Farrar

I’m actually supportive of most aspects of the Government’s Immigration Bill. The current system is explited by lawyers so that simple cases takes the best part of a decade to resolve.

However there are some worrying aspects, ably covered by Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn and Gordon Campbell at Scoop.

In a welcome move, the Immigration Bill does enshrine various UN conventions – including the Convention Against Torture – in our domestic law. However, in my earlier post, I outlined how the Immigration Bill violates key provisions of that same UN Convention Against Torture – by, for instance requiring ( see clause 122b ) an asylum seeker to prove they would face a worse risk of torture if returned home, than would be usual in their country.

The test should not (and is not under the UN convention) a worse risk of torture than other citizens, but whether there is any significant risk at all.

Ironically it means the more despotic a regime is, the more easily one could deport people back there as if they torture and maim everyone with impunity then you are at no worse risk.

I am sure that this clause will be changed, but you do have to worry about how it got in there in the first place.

Blog Bits

June 25th, 2008 at 6:45 pm by David Farrar

Gordon Campbell looks at National policies and has many legitimate questions about them. He may or should regret this line though:

In Ryall’s opinion, money isn’t the main issue anymore in health care – its more about the cultivation of fruitful and personally fulfilling caring, on current rations. “Money talks, but it is not the only, or even the prime, motivator.” Lean thinking, Ryall concludes, is bringing nurses at Middlemore hospital back to the bedside, and lean thinking is allowing them to do what they had trained to do. “They’re happier, enjoying work and doing more.” Truly, as the sign used to say over the gateway to Dachau concentration camp, work will make you free.

That goes beyond tacky.

Frog blogs (?in support) of a James Hansen who is trying to prosecute CEOs of large oil companies for “crimes against humanity and nature”. And their crimes:

Undermining public understanding about global warming

Is that not the most scary thing you have read? This mad bastard wants to lock up or execute people (normal punishment for crimes against humanity) because they disagree with him on global warming. There are fanatics and there are eco-fascists.

Frog doesn’t offer a view as to whether the Greens support jailing and execution of climate change sceptics.

Whale Oil is detecting some photoshopping amongst Labour.

No Minister notes the irony hypocrisy in the following sentence:

A spokesman for Foreign Minister Winston Peters, said it was of “grave concern” that Shameem and the military were using what appeared to be hacked private emails.

Truly no shame.

Paul Walker looks at some research on campaign finance reform, and how mostly it benefits incumbents.

Campbell interviews Dunne

June 17th, 2008 at 12:16 pm by David Farrar

Scoop’s Gordon Campbell continues his series of interviews with party leaders. This one is with Peter Dunne.

Campbell: The evidence for the prosecution would be the story that you started reading Hansard when you were twelve –

Dunne : Fourteen.

Good God, I didn’t start until university!

Campbell: Do you think any of the Christian-based parties will cross the 5 % threshold this year?

Dunne : No. United Future is not in that camp, not any more.

Campbell: You’ve been through your prayer meeting phase ?

Dunne : Well, we were never really in it. I certainly wasn’t. But we had some people who imagined that United Future could become New Zealand’s version of the Taliban.

Harsh rhetoric, but similar to what Mark Blumsky said, based on his experiences there also.

Dunne: Yes, and my own view is, that in today’s circumstances for a whole variety of reasons, technology being amongst them, the procedure of a woman, her doctor and two certifying consultants is somewhat cumbersome. I think probably, you should be looking at the woman, her doctor and informed consent. I have a very strong view that – and I appreciate the moral issue involved here – but the moral issue is actually the individual’s morals. I don’t think it’s a matter of the state imposing a moral code. I mean, there is a moral dimension as to whether you should have an abortion and that issue is still there – but that’s not a call that the state should be seeking to make on behalf of the people involved.

A pretty sensible view in my opinion.

Campbell: You’ve governed with Roger Douglas before. Would you like to again?

Dunne : No.

Campbell: Why not?

Dunne : Roger was dynamic to work with in the circumstances of the 1980s, which was big ideas, bold change et etc. The problem with Roger and the whole Act Party is that they’re trapped in a time warp, at the point when Roger was sacked. The world has moved on. The implicit mantra is that if we all went back to 1987 and picked up where we left off, things would be different. Its rubbish.

ACT people won’t like this, but Dunne does have a point here. There is sometimes a lack of reality about where NZ is at today, as compared to 20 years ago. The sense of crisis of the 1980s is not the same challenges we face today.

Campbell: If the Emissions Trading Scheme involves any extra costs whatsoever to taxpayers, would you oppose it?

Dunne : I want to know what those extra costs are, for a start.

Campbell: Understood. But from your statements, it sounds as if there is anything at all extra on household costs. you will oppose –

Dunne : If there’s anything extra that is not properly compensated then yes, we would oppose it.

Pretty clear.

Campbell: Is there one thing left that you want to achieve before you leave Parliament ?

Dunne : My personal biggest ambition in whatever time remains to me is the whole question of national identity, constitutional change and the path towards a republic. On the weekend I set out a timetable by which we could, if not get there, at last resolve the issues…. by 2017.

And that would be good. Labour’s shattering on the constitutional conventions over electoral law have pushed me 100% towards supporting a written constitution, to safeguard fundamental rights.

Rodney Hide interview

May 9th, 2008 at 10:41 am by David Farrar

Scoop has an in depth interview with Rodney Hide. This is what I like about online media – one can see a full transcript. Some interesting extracts:

Campbell : So you consider yourself a libertarian?

Hide : Yeah.

Campbell : But you don’t regard taxation, in principle, as theft ?

Hide : I don’t see that argument helps. Saying that something is theft. Because technically. it isn’t. I understand that taxation is a compulsory taking – but its not theft in the sense that…however you look at it, Parliament has made it legal. It doesn’t make it right.

Campbell : So it is wrong in principle, but OK in law?

Hide : Having excessive tax of course is wrong in principle. But I don’t think saying that taxation is theft is correct. Our definition in New Zealand of what is theft is : what is against the law. And amazingly, our Parliament makes…you know, tax legal. I don’t think its on the cards that we could live in a totally voluntary society, where there is no tax.

Don’t tell Lindsay Perigo that Rodney called himself a libertarian, but I think he gets it right when he says some tax is okay, but excessive taxation is wrong. Taxation is a privilege, not a right!

Campbell : I’ll re-phrase. Do you see human beings as being responsible for the global warming that the IPCC sees as occurring right now ?

Hide : OK, that’s a better question. Um… whether its anthropogenic. I think there is an influence. I think its arguable how much. And that’s not clear. We do not know the exact influence that humans have had on the world’s climate. It requires a theoretical understanding largely based on models. If we accept the IPCC – which isn’t a bad starting point, right? The political question is what then do we do? I think that has two components. The first is that we have to worry seriously about our trade, and our international standing because we could find ourselves very easily shut out of the world. Which would be horrific. So we’ve got to be, to use the phrase, ‘ global citizens’ on this one. I think Kyoto One was a mistake.

It is worth reading the full exchange. Like the religion it has become, Rodney was asked if he “believes” in global warming. He refused to play ball and kept pointing out the wrong questions were being asked until a sensible question was asked.

Campbell : Some people use private schools and healthcare. Would Act give them a tax break for doing so, and why?

Hide : Better than that, we would actually provide the full amount for everyone. So we think the state shouldn’t have a preference for state schools over private schools. So we think we should fund every child and that means essentially a scholarship for every child. So those who are already sending their child to an independent school would basically receive the money they are saving today, by sending their children there. Parents currently sending their children to a state school would have the option of sending their child to an independent school, without the financial burden that’s there at present.

Campbell : Isn’t that just education vouchers by another name?

Hide : Sure.

Nice to see an MP not try and do an Orwellian spin.

Campbell : Can you tell me exactly how educational vouchers would lift everyone’s boat, and raise educational outcomes nationwide?

Hide : Sure. This is the experience since 1992 in Sweden. Which is hardly a shining bastion of libertarianism. Or freedom. But they adopted Act’s policy in 1992. To show you how effective its been, all the political parties in their Parliament now support it. The only party to oppose it are the former Communists. Why they found was…only a small percentage, and I forget the number of students, took advantage of the opportunity to shift schools, But as soon as schools were in danger of losing their roll, they actually lifted their game and they took parents seriously.

Where new schools most appeared were in the disadvantaged areas – most obviously amongst the new immigrant areas. Which is quite logical. Where people are sort of well off, well heeled and well incomed even within the state school system they get schools that are, you know, good. Where you find poor areas you find it harder to maintain even a decent state school, And where you have minority cultural groups that don’t necessarily reflect their requirements for education….and so, that’s what happened in Sweden.

This hits the nail on the road. When you get stronger incentives to perform, then performance lifts. Anyone who argues that incentives don’t influence behaviour, has little experience outside a textbook.

Campbell : Could you clarify for me – is Sir Roger intimating to you that he’d like to be in an electable position on the party list?

Hide : Yes.

Campbell : So one could expect him to be two or three – not nine or ten?

Hide :Well, I’m thinking and not because I disrespect Roger…but I’m thinking five or six. Because I want people…if they want Roger in Parliament, to vote for the party. And I also want Roger to come back into Parliament and have some influence. And that requires we get more MPs. But that will be a decision for Sir Roger, and for other members in the board, not for the leader to dictate the list.

I have long suspected he would be placed at around No 6, to encourage people to give ACT 5%. Whether they will, is quite another matter.

Gordon Campbell on The Listener

May 5th, 2008 at 8:30 am by David Farrar

Gordon Campbell, a former Listener journalist, writes on Scoop about Pamela Stirling’s description of the “old” Listener as “the house journal of the Alliance Party”. I comment on his comments:

It is not the first time the former Listener as ‘house journal of the Alliance Party’ line has been floated by Stirling. Whether this is the intention or not, the effect is to portray her tenure as having more journalistic integrity than her predecessors, and her staff as being more professional than staff in the past.

I don’t see her comments as meaning a lack of integrity or professionalism. I see it as a comment on the lack of diversity of views the Listener used to have. Just as the NBR doesn’t exactly have a lot of articles promoting higher taxes either. A magazine can have an ideological bent but still be ethical and professional – look at the UK newspapers. The problem comes when a publication has an ideological bent but tries and denies it.

The reality is that the Listener was never the sort of doctrinaire publication that the “Alliance house journal” jibe would suggest. Its spirit was liberal, compassionate and contrarian. The voice it had in our national debate was alternative in the best sense, of standing apart from the mainstream and analyzing it critically. It was that contrarian spirit that saw the Listener endorse MMP, and run fair and balanced profiles of Roger Kerr, Lindsay Perigo, Winston Peters and other polarising figures in its pages.

Of course the Listener in the past has had fair and balanced ((c) Fox News) features. But overall it was very predictably leftwing. The test I used to apply to it was whether I could accurately predict the substance of a story based on just knowing the topic off the cover. And 95% of the time I could – it was almost without fail the left liberal view of the world.

This was in marked contrast to say North & South where I could see they were covering a topic, but never really know what sort of position or angle they would take on it, until I had actually read it.

Now I have no problem with any publication (so long as not state funded) having an ideological leaning. But to try and argue that no such leaning existed, does people a disservice.

In my experience, we at the Listener tended to have a healthy skepticism towards everyone – including Labour when in power in the 80s ( the Listener invented the term ‘Rogernomics’ and it wasn’t meant as flattery) National in the 90s, and Labour again early this decade. Consistently, the Listener bit the hand of power, and would then explain in 2,500 reasoned words why it felt the need to do so.

It is true that the Listener has railed against every Government from the 1980s onwards – but almost always for not being left wing enough. I don’t recall any articles complaining about the killing off of choice in accident compensation, or complaining about making union membership compulsory for employees who want a collective contract. Just being critical of both National and Labour Governments does not mean you are not free of ideological slant.

What the Listener used to stand for was intellectual depth, critical analysis of the left and the right, good arts pages and Bradford’s Hollywood. It was a great ragbag of a read. Again, I beg to differ with Stirling – the current Listener seems anything but diverse. It exhibits instead an increasingly narrow fixation on the lifestyle choices and social anxieties of a baby boomer elite. Someone recently suggested to me that a typical Listener cover story nowadays would run something along the lines of “Is Your House Making You Fat?”

Here Campbell is on stronger grounds. I do find the Listener pretty trite at times, but this tendency pre-dates Stirling to be fair. Around seven or eight years ago I decided to keep getting the Listener mainly for its columnists, having gone off their features as often superficial. Sadly it is not only the Listener going this way – Metro and North & South are now pale shadows of their former glory.