Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

30th November 2001 - Make It Stop

Copyright © 2001 Russell Brown

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make it stop. Please. Not the Alliance infighting. Not Bathgate-gate. Not even the war. Just the year. It's been nice, 2001, but can't it just be Christmas already?

Such sentiments seized me and briefly disabled my Trojan work ethic this week. Happens every year, just as things are getting really busy. The socialising doesn't help. I couldn't bail on Hard News two weeks in a row, but you'll have to forgive some brevity.

Anyway, the Alliance. What a shambles. Yet for all that I know that Jim Anderton is dictatorial and conservative - the one time I ever interviewed him I felt like Simon Walker talking to Muldoon - I can't help but think that until such time as any other Alliance candidate has a show of winning an electorate seat, everyone else might just have to put up with it.

The fact is, the Alliance did only grab seven per cent of the vote last time round and in that light its influence has been spectacular. It's not just twelve weeks' paid parental leave and the Kiwi Bank, or even Anderton's successful regional development strategy. It's credibility in government.

Anderton loves his job as Deputy Prime Minister; he is good at it. Sandra Lee has developed into a minister of real stature. Laila Harre has shown that someone with really quite left-wing views can be effective and credible as a minister.

You don't get any of that with seven per cent of the vote - you get it by being part of the government and realising you can't always get what you want. If you want to be on the side of the angels all the time, every time, you choose the comfort of life outside government.

On the other hand, it's hard not to sympathise with Matt McCarten and the faction who would, in the words of those emails that so enraged the leader, "reclaim the party for the left". That's the brand the public perceives in the Alliance. Unfortunately, it's not the reality.

Forty per cent of the Alliance membership is the Democrats - or, as they used to be, Social Credit - who last week voted no confidence in McCarten; earning from him an invitation to piss off.

The problem there is that the Democrats have always been the party's fund-raising engine: bingo nights, typewriter ribbon recycling, you name it. In most political parties raising dosh is the party president's job, but in the Alliance it seems it's the other way around - MPs tithe part of their income to support him. Or not, since Jim changed the accounts.

As useful as the Democrats are, the fact remains that their party is founded on a ludicrous economic philosophy that no one else in the world - or even in the Alliance - takes seriously. At least they have the decency to shut up about it.

Anyway, Bathgate-gate. Susan Bathgate has resigned from her gig on the Employment Relations Authority - a judicial warrant, rather than a job, it should be noted - after months of pressure from Rodney Hide - and the day after the government got a legal opinion on her holding of part-time jobs on the Complaints Review Tribunal and Social Security Appeal Authority, in addition to her full-time job with the ERA.

This is neither as bad as Rodney Hide would have you believe, or as good as Margaret Wilson cracks on. As was the case with the ministerial living allowances shemozzle, the rules aren't entirely clear. And Bathgate was good enough to be repeatedly hired in similar roles by former national governments. But in judicial areas, judgement is everything, and she looks to have lacked it, not least publicly understating the number of days' leave she'd taken monnlight.

Margaret Wilson overrode her officials to get Bathgate on the ERA and the current mess reflects poorly on the minister. Wilson also overrode her officials when they warned her that her amendment to the Electoral Act - which brings back criminal libel in a ham-fisted attempt to protect political candidates from smears at election time - probably breached the Bill of Rights. Worse, she tried to slip it in *after* the rest of the legislation had been to select committee. It has been softened on the insistence of the Greens, but it's hard to see why it was there in the first place.

The impression persists of Margaret Wilson as a woman with a bloody great big sledgehammer walking around looking for nuts to crack.

Speaking of which, the war. And, as the Americans deign to come down from the skies, finally, an American military casualty. How ironic that it was a CIA operative. Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance commits acts that from anyone else would be war crimes - with the explicit approval of the US Secretary of Defence. Don't take this is moral certainty on my part, however. I've given up on trying to achieve that over this.

Anyway, a word on Metro's shock-horror ecstasy cover story; the one with the made-up model helpfully demonstrating to readers what a comatose girl on the pavement looks like. Learn to spell, people. E-C-S-T-A-S-Y. There was a good story in there - greedy party promoters, bad rooms, bad drugs - but this sure wasn't it.

And finally, farewell to the justifiably legendary 95bFM station manager Suzanne Wilson and hello to the no doubt soon-to-be-legendary Aaron Carson. The b rolls on


Russell Brown                      

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