Copyright © 2002 Russell Brown
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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ...
was it rude of us to beat the long-suffering English cricket team while the Queen was here? Just asking. For as surely as a one-day batsman premeditates sweeping a spinner, there seemed to be an uncontrollable urge amongst the press and politicians to divine insults to the Queen at the hands of her Prime Minister.
The PM's absence in Europe when the royal party touched down for a tour rescheduled from last year was gauged an insult before she even left, even though she was always making it back for the formal reception. And then, the Weekend Herald led with the startling headline 'PM puts Queen on notice'.
The story that followed was rather less startling. In response to a question after her speech at the London School of Economics, Helen Clark repeated her quote of two years ago, to the effect that New Zealand having a head of state 20,000 kilometres away was "absurd" - but that neither she or her countrymen were that bothered about it and that it would be 10 to 20 years before New Zealand cut its ties with the monarchy.
A later Herald story noted that The Guardian had picked up on her comments. Which it did, albeit in a manner tantamount to admiration. But the Guardian also reported that the New Zealand Herald had "taken a cool view of the royal visit" - its reporter having mistaken Brian Rudman's amusing column for the official stance of our leading daily paper. Ho ho.
But it was at the big dinner that the insult-o-meter was most sensitively tuned. The PM almost - but didn't - sit down before the Queen. Grace wasn't said. Oh, right. But most of all, Helen Clark showed the appalling bad manners of wearing trousers in the royal presence.
No, seriously, it was an issue. And call me stupid, but I have no idea why. Would it be the Royal Trouser Act of 1472, which forbids women to wear trousers in the company of the monarch, on pain of being put in the stocks? No, it wouldn't. I made that up. But why, for God's sake? Were the trousers clean? Were they nice trousers? And what actual century are we in?
I'm one of the relatively disinterested colonial hordes when it comes to our monarch. I don't mind the taxpayer forking out a bit when she visits - if only because our statutes still invoke the Crown and until such time as we sort out something better, it would be rude not to.
But I can't help but feel that the tireless attempts by a number of people to gain political mileage by declaring a catfight between the Queen and her Prime Minister were probably a good deal more embarrassing to the Queen than the flagrant wearing of trousers.
Among those people was the Act MP and freelance fashion consultant Stephen Franks, who even got himself an opinion piece in the Herald to bitch about why the Prime Minister couldn't dress like a proper woman. In a turn of mind snotty even by Franks's standards, he also slated her husband, Peter Davis, for wearing a red bow tie to dinner. The Herald noted that the Prime Minister had been invited to respond but had declined. Good job too.
The funny thing was that everyone missed the real significance of Clark's speech in London. In terms of political culture, she and her confidants are Anglophile. Guardian readers, New Statesman subscribers, friends of Tony.
And this speech was her helpfully offering the text by which she wished to be written into the history books. Twice, she identified her government as one of the "third way", which must have made Steve Maharey just about wet himself. It was interesting. Unfortunately, I have no information as to what she was wearing, but one could safely guess it was sensible.
Apart from Al Morrison, none of the press back home bothered to ask her what transpired afterwards at her annual social democratic get-together with the Progressive Governance group. This also might have been interesting, given that the assembled leaders surely discussed the international issue of the hour: what the hell do we do about the Americans?
Perhaps the pants were targeted because Clark and her party currently appear almost impregnable on more conventional political fronts. A TV3 poll this week found 54% support for Labour - a 24-point lead over National only seven months from the election. The public seems disinclined to punish them over the current problems in schools and hospitals.
And there seems every reason to believe the public will swallow this week's increase in petrol tax and road user charges to fund a new land transport strategy.
There has been the expected outrage from the likes of Southland Federated Farmers, who insist that nobody else should be forced to pay for Auckland's transport woes.
This is to forget that the package will potentially see Aucklanders fork out to get about via toll roads. And further to forget that New Zealanders live here too, and that more tax flows out of Auckland than comes back in government spending and always has done. We don't mind paying for your hospitals; please stop bitching about contributing modestly to the overdue solution of a problem that affects the whole economy.
So, business confidence came roaring back in this week's National Bank survey, taking an 18-point swing to a net 16 per cent optimism about business conditions. A net 38 per cent expected their own businesses to expand in the next year.
This made the highly contrived "study" by the NZIER - splashed across the front page of the Business Herald this week as a fictional letter from a fictional accountant to a fictional medium-sized company - look a bit silly.
Even the institute's screaming worst-case take on the impact of minimum wage, ACC, labour and workplace safety laws and the Resource Management Act could only find additional costs of $26,000 over three years, from a company turnover of $12 million. That's two tenths of one per cent of turnover. The hypothetical accountant who advised that the company henceforth cancel all plans for building and expansion needed to hypothetically get a life.
Even the Alliance's embarrassing infighting doesn't appear to harm its coalition partner. I confess, I'm on the Anderton side of this one, because I can't for the life of me tell what the supposed grassroots rebels want. What Anderton wants, on the other hand, is no secret - him and his people in government and half a dozen decent policy wins per Parliamentary term. It beats being in Opposition.
If the two factions do split, Jim's side will take with it his safe seat in Wigram - and the proven money-raising abilities of the Democrats. The other side will be ideologically thrilling, but more than a bit thin. This assumes, of course, that somebody can work out who actually owns the Alliance. I bet a few people are regretting that party-hopping law now.
Meanwhile, Labour can declare itself part of an international third-way club and is most at risk from its own confidence turning to arrogance, as it has at times in the past two years. A mass voter tune-out dented Tony Blair's credibility at his last election; Clark can't really afford to have the same happen to her.
Anyway, best wishes to those undergoing a period of quiet reflection on this, the morning after Kevin Smith's last after-match. I, of course, was the model of moderation throughout the evening
By the way: Last week's Hard News has rocketed to the top of the mp3.net.nz charts, courtesy of more than 600 downloads of the MP3 file of Say Yes to Apes' 'This Is Your Lucky Night'. The song, featuring Kevin Smith on vocals and guitar, is still available at: http://www.mp3.net.nz/mp3/view?item_id=3671
This issue of HARD NEWS is also available in MP3 form at http://www.mp3.net.nz/mp3/view?item_id=3712
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