Hard News by Russell Brown


The humanity

Election campaigns are exhausting for everyone concerned, and the strange one we've just emerged from more than most. Even for the losers, there's usually at least the simple relief of it all being over. Most of us out here can just mentally change the channel. But spare a thought for the journalists.

Like the politicians they cover, political reporters have itineraries. But they also have deadlines -- and in the modern media world, those deadlines fall closer together and must be met with fewer and fewer resources. One journalist I know, sick throughout the final week of the campaign, vomited in a stranger's garden on Sunday, out of stress and sheer exhaustion. The additional treat of being abused on social media must feel pretty special at such times.

So there was a grim irony yesterday in poor bloody gallery reporters having to spend more than seven hours, much of it slumped on the hard floors of the Parliament building, waiting outside the Labour caucus room for the battered MPs to emerge from their debrief. This great photograph posted to Facebook yeterday by One News' Katie Bradford (and used here with her permission) captures the vibe:

They didn't have to wait, of course. The world wouldn't end if an MP wasn't wrangled in the corridor, and in this case, little or nothing was actually got when the caucus did actually emerge. But the reporter who missed the moment would not be very popular with his or her boss.

After all this sympathy, I would like to observe what can be really wrong with political reporting. Journalists are not, with a few exceptions, biased in a partisan sense. But the collective culture (especially with male journalists) is quite often about the pursuit of the weakened. Duncan Garner inadvertently admitted as much in a talk about his years as political editor at the Wintec Press Club earlier this year. He told a story about hearing that a particular minister was on the skids and swinging into action, thrilled at the scent of blood in the water. It was no coincidence that John Key got the most onerous grillings of his leadership exactly when he was knocked off balance by Dirty Politics.

Yesterday's post-caucus press conference with David Cunliffe was brutal. The Labour leader, denied even a no-confidence vote by his MPs -- because they don't want him to lose one just yet, and thus trigger Labour's party primary process -- looked shattered. His voice wavered, there may have even been tears in his eyes. TV3's political editor Patrick Gower did a decent enough job of explaining grim mechanics of Cunliffe's predicament in his report -- but Gower's conduct in the press conference made me uneasy.

He shouted at Cunliffe, a lame-duck leader with no good answers, for the answers he wanted. And then he barked: "Just say it -- stop being tricky!"

"Tricky". It's hard to over-emphasise quite how loaded that word is. "Tricky David Cunliffe" is an attack line conceived and cultivated by Cunliffe's National Party opponents over the entire time of his Labour leadership. There can barely be a National minister who hasn't deployed it: The first few Google results for the phrase turn up Todd McLay, Amy Adams, John Key and, naturally, Whaleoil. Its organised use had a lot to do with shaping the popular perception of Cunliffe. It would not have had meaning without Cunliffe's missteps, but it was a very successful political strategy.

For these reasons, it's a line that a journalist simply should not be using.

But there are other reasons too. Cunliffe has failed as party leader. But he has not committed a crime, breached ethics, lied or hidden something from the public. He does not owe the apology to the country that interviewers have demanded from him in the past two days. He is simply an easy, bleeding target. Perhaps a little humanity is in order.


Last Night's Media Take looked at democratic events thrice over: in Scotland, Fiji and New Zealand. I particularly enjoyed the smart, purposeful commentary of AUT's Richard Pamatatau on the nature of the punditry in our campaign cover. You can watch it here.


Five further thoughts

1. Christ, what a shellacking. Click around Harkanwal Singh's Herald interactive. In electorate after electorate, polling place after polling place, National won at least a plurality of the votes. Even where voters collectively chose to return their Labour MPs to Parliament, they generally gave their party votes to National. Labour won the party vote in only five general electorates. I don't think it's viable for Cunliffe to stay on after this.

2. The Maori electorates are now effectively Labour's Heartland. Six of the seven electorates were won by Labour candidates. In every electorate, Labour won the party vote by a considerable margin. Those voters will expect, and deserve, proper recognition of that fact in whatever shape Labour reassembles itself. On the other hand, I don't see how Labour's rejection of the Maori Party was a major failure. Maori voters rejected the Maori Party too. See also: South Auckland.

3. The election was not primarily about policy. Although it will understandably be regarded as a mandate for National's policies, I don't think this has been an election about policy, but about who the voters have seen as fit to govern. Where discrete policies have been tested in polls, the public has often-as-not favoured Labour's over National's. They just didn't back Labour to enact them. I'm very concerned now over what happens in education, where I think the degree of the mess National has already made (National Standards is objectively a shambles) is not widely appreciated.

4. The majority of the public does not deserve scorn, and neither does the grieving minority. A bunch of my Facebook friends are beside themselves, and that doesn't mean they're out-of-touch wankers. They're entitled to be disappointed that their priorities are not shared. The ones who are already committing to take their own action over child poverty are acting admirably.

5. As David Cunliffe has implied, perhaps the future is indeed the campaign coalition with the Greens that he rejected back in April. I agreed with that choice at the time and now I wonder if I was wrong. The public wanted to see what an alternative government might look like. They should be given the opportunity next time.


The sole party of government

It turned out to be a great night for the National Party and its leader. For everyone else, the 2014 election result ran from disappointment to disaster.

Even New Zealand First, which doubled the support it was showing in polls only a few months ago, will spend the next three years bereft of any meaningful influence. Internet Mana turned out to be a terribly failed experiment, Act and United Future exist as parliamentary parties solely through the dispensation of National, the Conservative Party was stranded, the Maori Party was deserted by its core support and the Greens' problem turning polling growth into actual votes seems worse than ever.

And, above all, the Labour Party failed to convince enough voters that it could be the core of a viable alternative government. That, I think, is the problem beyond any of the unusual and controversial elements of this campaign. For a majority of voters, only one party seemed a prudent choice as the leader of a government. They did not welcome or trust the change Labour was offering.

A swing towards National in Christchurch, where the government has failed and people know it, says that. The "swing" towards National in Mt Roskill was actually a matter of Labour's voters staying home. The "missing million" voters stayed MIA: almost the same number of registered voters gave their vote to National as failed to vote at all.

It's not as if the result is a huge surprise. National's vote was not greatly higher than where the poll-of-polls left it and Labour's was virtually bang-on. The last Herald DigiPoll poll almost called it. I thought it was likely that National would form the next government, but expected it would need New Zealand First for a Parliamentary majority.

As it turns out, National needs only Peter Dunne and David Seymour (although it will embrace Te Uururoa Flavell), and I think that accountability gap is a problem. I have been fairly confident that the tangle of Dirty Politics and the more recent, alarming evidence that the official information process is being corrupted would have to be examined in public over the next year. Now, I'm not so sure.

Similarly, there will be few checks on National in areas where its policy is lacking, and even, the polls have said, out of step with the wishes of a sizeable chunk of its own voters. Think education, housing and foreign investment.

The establishment of National as the sole party of government also means that the path to Parliament has become more and more a matter of patronage within the party. The fact that Mark Mitchell was heading for the country's bigest electorate majority in Rodney last night will not be lost on anyone who has read Dirty Politics and knows how he won what has become the real contest in Rodney and a couple of dozen electorates like it -- the contest for the National Party nomination.

There will inevitably, be an unedifying tussle within Labour and much contemplation elsewhere and none of that will have much impact on the actual practice of goverment. For that, we will be relying on National to be the prudent, mainstream party of government it projected in its campaigning. To, in short, be decent.


Decision 2014: Where to watch and listen

There were quite a few queries on the wires last night as to where a person who can't receive New Zealand broadcasts might stay abreast of today's election results. Short version: you're spoiled for choice. As I understand it, none of the following services will be geoblocked and everything starts at 7pm when the polls close.

Maori Televsion will be presenting results with a particular focus on the Maori electorates. Go here for that.

TV3's election-night coverage will be available here.

TVNZ will be serving up two streams -- one from its domestic TV coverage and the other solely providing results as they come in. Both of those will be available from this page.

Radio New Zealand will have Kathryn Ryan and Guyon Espiner presenting its election night show and will be publishing results and commentary through the night.

The New Zealand Herald has an interactive created by its in-house data journalist Harkanwal Singh, which will be updated with live results as they come in, right down to individual polling places. Well nerdy.

Scoop, Roy Morgan and QRious, as The Election Data Consortium, will have a live results page, with links to relevant iPredict contracts.

Newstalk ZB will be streaming to the US and Australia via iHeart Radio. For everywhere else, go here. Note that Newstalk ZB also has a results page here.

The Discourse podcast people will be online all night here.

The Manawatu Standard will have live updates from the Palmerston North and Rangitikei electorates.

Radio Live coverage will be hosted by Sean Plunket and also feature David Slack, Mitch Harris and Chris Trotter, with live crosses to Marcus Lush at the party HQs.

Kiwi FM will be doing something slightly different, with a bundle of comedic talent -- Rose Matafeo and a bunch of people from 7 Days and Jono and Ben at 10.

And of then of course, there's the Electoral Commission's official election results website.

Because the rules on election-day media are so goddamn strict I can't share the link to this post if there are comments that may be seen to influence someone's vote in any way. The simplest thing, then, is to leave comments off until 7pm. If you have an election-night thing you'd like me to link to here, click the email button at the bottom of this post, let me know and I'll add it.

At that time I'll also publish a nice guest post by Tze Ming Mok about watching the election from afar. Righto, then. See you when the polls close.


Friday Music: Lovable Munter

I know I've banged on quite a bit about Courtney Barnett lately, but oh my goodness she was great at the King's Arms this week. Her wordy, nerdy songs, her weird guitar-playing, her rockin' band and her lovable-munter persona, they all just came together. And although she could easily have filled a bigger venue, it kind of felt fitting that her first foray in New Zealand was to a jam-packed King's Arms.

There are echoes of the Hoodoo Gurus, the Saints and various other elements of Australian rock 'n' roll heritage in her music, but it's way more than a pastiche of its influences. I look forward to her forthcoming album and to her return her next year. Laneway, anyone?

Cheese on Toast has the pictures.


Out this week, an amazing video by Markus Hofko for Suren Unka's 'Flee'. It's probably worth knowing that the actor in the video, Howard Cyster, is also a stuntman. This is an inspired interpretation of the track:

I think this video is going to be a tipping point for this young guy. Expect to see him go fully international in the next year. The track itself is from this year's album El Chupacabra, which you can by here on Bandcamp.


If you haven't heard Moana Maniapoto's music lately, you may be surprised by where she's taken it with her new album Rima. Paddy Free, who is half of Pitch Black, is now a member of the Moana and the Tribe band and has produced the new album. It's waiata Maori meeting electronic dub and it's way deep. The album is out next Friday, but here's the first single. It's a political song:

I have two double passes for Moana's album launch show at Galatos on Sunday, September 28 to give away. Just click the reply button at the bottom of this post to get in on the draw.


On Audioculture this week, Roger King recalls The Record Warehouse, from the golden days of Auckland record shops.

And Barney McDonald revisits the days of dilated pupils in an account of the heyday of Calibre.

Oh, and just a heads up: there's a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar coming -- and Julia Deans has the part of Mary Magdalene. That's really very cool.


Just some tracks. By rights, a techno-house remix of James Brown's 'Sex Machine' should be an abomination. But this had my darling and I chair-dancing this morning. It's amiably silly and a free download via Facebook:

Another house track for download, this time from Karim:

In a wholly different vein, three voices and strings from Wellington folk trio Ida Lune on TheAudience:

And finally, one I've burgled from the discussion of Grant McDougall's excellent tribute to the late Peter Gutteridge. Earlier this year, Peter shambled up on stage to join The Clean at Chick's Hotel for a song or two, including this one that he co-wrote for The Clean way back when. The riff is his and I don't think there are many, if any, songs that mean more to me than this:

Anyway, I'm kind of knackered and I'll be working on a post-election wrap-up for the TV show on Sunday, so I'm award myself the rest of the day off. But I'll be going to a couple of election-night parties and I thought it might be fun if you guys wanted to pitch in with a few election-night party tunes.

Downloads are cool, but so are YouTube clips. Remember that in our comments section all you need to do is paste in the URL and your clip will automagically embed. Chur.


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