Hard News by Russell Brown


Burning down the house to feel better

I've noted here before my bemusement at self-professed conservatives who don't seem to mind the way first Donald Trump the candidate and President of the US Donald Trump has been determined to throw onto a bonfire the institutions and principles they're supposed to treasure.

As it happens, The Guardian has given John Daniel Davidson, a senior correspondent for the Federalist, a chance to explain himself. The column he submitted does nothing more clearly than demonstrate the feeble, desperate place American conservative thought has got itself to.

Let's start in the middle, with the heroin. Like everything else, Davidson blames American's middle-class heroin crisis on Obama.

Except for the heroin. Like many suburban and rural communities across the country, Akron is in the grip of a deadly heroin epidemic. Last summer, a batch of heroin cut with a synthetic painkiller called carfentanil, an elephant tranquilliser, turned up in the city. Twenty-one people overdosed in a single day. Over the ensuing weeks, 300 more would overdose. Dozens would die.

Wait up. America's heroin crisis is a consequence of the way big drug companies were allowed (long before Obama) to market powerful, addictive synthetic painkillers for chronic pain conditions. By the time the tap was belatedly turned off, there were millions of addicts who became something new: middle-class heroin users.

But Trump was going to rein in the drug companies and directly negotiate prices. Right up until his first meeting as president with pharma lobbyists (he was going to have no truck with lobbyists), from which he emerged saying he wasn't going to do any of that. (The day after that meeting, it emerged that Kaleo, the maker of the only auto-injector for naloxone – a lifesaving antidote for opioid overdose – had jacked up the price of its product by 680%.)

Davidson then asks us to believe that Trump voters "want him to dismantle Dodd-Frank financial regulations for Wall Street". Do they really? The removal of Dodd-Frank's consumer protections would surely be against their interests – and, more to the point, at odd with his promise to rein in Wall Street. Indeed, when Glover Park Group polled the issue with self-identified Trump voters late last year, only 27% wanted Dodd-Frank scrapped or tempered and 47% wanted to keep it as is. Only 7% wanted to see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau scrapped, yet Trump has announced that he will hobble that agency. (Given that he has stacked his administration with Goldman Sachs alumni – the very moneylenders he constantly promised to cast out of the temple – this isn't exactly a surprise.)

Davidson offers that ordinary Americans think the financial crisis was brought on by "the excesses of Wall Street bankers", yet insists that those same people want to see the end of any restraint on the excesses.

Davidson doesn't bother himself with the implications of a return to trade protectionism, except to note that many Republicans disagree. He manages to not make clear who would pay a 20% "border tax" – that is, consumers. He offers no argument that the wall with Mexico would actually achieve anything for its billions of dollars in costs (face it, it's going to be the boondoggle to end all boondoggles), because apparently all that matters is that its construction will make his ordinary American Trump voters feel better. And a reckless threat to invade Mexico on the hazy grounds of "bad hombres"? Better yet. Nothing has to make sense if it makes people feel better.

Similarly, Davidson invokes "recent polls" to argue that Americans are prepared to overlook the chaos and incompetence of the travel ban. Actually, polling by Gallup and CBS sharply showed the opposite and even in the Reuters poll, which found a plurality in favour, only 31% thought it would make Americans safer. What is it actually for, then?

It's telling that nowhere in his screed does Davidson acknowledge that people who might actually be hurt by some still-unspecified immigration clampdown include Americans, even though the small-town folks supposedly applauding the chaos will soon find themselves short of the migrant doctors who staff their clinics. The people who delivered Clinton her popular vote win than took to the streets last month live apparently not in cities, but in "enclaves". They are an "elite". Moreover, they are, by implication, not white.

He also argues that "millions turned to food stamps and welfare programmes just to get by" during the Obama years. Well, yes – the safety net was always going to be strained by the worst American financial crisis since the 1930s. But he somehow forgets to note that the number of Americans in the SNAP "food stamps" programme has actually been falling since 2013. Trump currently has a draft executive order on his desk that would ban first-generation immigrants (and their children) from the SNAP programme. Legal immigrants. The consequences of doing so would be horrifying in a number of ways. But if it makes Davidson's middle-of-the-country white folks feel better, it's all good, right?

As I've noted previously, the Gallup and Pew studies of Trump voters leading up to the election found that they were, by and large, economically secure – and that their considerable unease with immigrants was cultural rather than economic.

Well, okay. Cultural insecurity is a real feeling. But is it really a good basis for the pursuit of logically incoherent actions, and for the destruction of a post-war order – global as well as national – and its accompanying institutions? For what looks like nothing so much as an unending tantrum?  It's like validating an angry teenager's wish to burn the house down because it makes him happy.

Remarkably, as he lauds Trump's performance as a "champion for the forgotten millions", Davidson finds no space to look at what Trump's advisor, Steve Bannon, believes. The same Bannon appointed to the National Security Council – in place of the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – in an executive order that Trump appears to have signed without actually reading.

As Jonathan Freedland notes in another column in the same paper, it ironically falls now to liberals to do what used to be the job of conservatives: to defend order.


More medical cannabis misadventure with the Ministry of Health (actually, probably with Crown Law)

American film director Mitch Stein recently arrived in New Zealand along with his wife for a three week holiday, including a visit with his stepson on Waiheke Island. Instead, he was held for 12 hours, interviewed and put on a fight back to San Francisco. He wasn't permitted to pass on gifts for his son or even say goodbye to his wife.

Stein, as he explains in this four-page statement, had brought, and declared, medical cannabis that had been prescribed for him in California. You might have though this was not a problem, given the precedent set by Rebecca Reider's case only last August. That case affirmed that the Misuse of Drugs Act, s8(2)(l)(iii) allows a person entering or leaving New Zealand to:

... possess a controlled drug required for treating the medical condition of the person or any other person in his or her care or control, if the quantity of drug is no greater than that required for treating the medical condition for 1 month, and the drug was ... lawfully supplied to the person overseas and supplied for the purpose of treating a medical condition.

But not any more, it appears. Stein had checked the law a month before he embarked on his holiday, but says he was told that "the law had just changed last month without my knowledge, now making my importation of medicinal cannabis a crime."

The otherwise useful John Campbell interview with Stein yesterday also mentioned the law having changed.

Let's be very clear about this: the law has not changed and any Customs officer who told Stein it had was either misinformed or deliberately misleading him. Indeed, the police officer who was summoned when the matter became a "drug intercept" told Stein it was clearly a misunderstanding: 

... and not criminal activity that warranted further investigation or charges being pressed. He offered to walk with us to Immigration to let them know personally that the police did not consider this a criminal matter, and indicated that we would likely be released soon.

So what exactly went on here? Again, the law has not changed. What has changed is a policy at the Ministry of Health, from which Customs takes its advice.

Officials at the ministry quietly announced on December 7 that no medical cannabis product produced or prescribed in the US could be considered to have been  "lawfully supplied" unless it was approved by the US federal government , even if it was prescribed in one of the majority of US states that allow medical cannabis prescriptions:

A number of US states permit the medical use of cannabis-based products. However, under Federal law cannabis-based products for medical use are not considered lawfully supplied, unless the product has US Food and Drug Administration approval.

To date, no drug product containing or derived from botanical cannabis (the cannabis plant) has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

It's a questionable reading of the law. Stein's medical cannabis was lawfully obtained in California, the state where he lives, the law does not refer to it being lawfully exported (which is where the federal government might come into the picture) – and the Ministry is refusing to release the legal advice behind it.

It's also incoherent. Is any product not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to be considered illegal? This is already having an impact on patients seeking ministerial approval for products under Regulation 22 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations. (Although the advocate I spoke to said the ministry cited not the FDA but the US Drug Enforcement Agency as the "competent authority" it now believed was required to provide an export licence.)

Sativex, which can be prescribed in New Zealand (indeed, the ministry actually urged the late Helen Kelly's doctor to seek approval for a prescription) is not FDA-approved, but is typically imported from the UK, so it's okay. But two other products which have been approved on application to the minister – Elixinol and Aceso Calm Spray – now cannot be applied for, because they are manufactured in the US. An application from a neurologist at Starship to prescribe a product made from the low-THC strain Haleigh's Hope for a child patient who has had two brain surgeries got most of the way through the system last month, only to be nixed by the policy change. 

The ministry's ongoing inability or unwillingness to defend its positions is a matter of concern. It really does appear that some officials have a hangup about medical cannabis and are finding ways to frustrate the law. If Peter Dunne wants the process to be respected and followed, then he needs to rein in those officials.

Perhaps they feel they have their reasons: but was it really worth what happened to Mitch Stein? He's missed out on visiting his stepson, he's thousands of dollars out of pocket – and he will now be obliged to declare at every foreign port he visits for the rest of his life that he was refused entry to New Zealand as a drug smuggler.

It seems an unfair and onerous result for a man who checked the law and freely declared what he had on arrival. Are those Ministry of Health officials happy with what they've done here? Did Customs and Immigration act reasonably in their treatment of Stein? Is this a good result for anyone?

If the ministry believes the law should change, then it should say so and pursue a change via Parliament, where we can all hear the arguments. This move to subvert the law via internal policy settings is odious.

Update: See this comment from Chris Fowlie, who says the "legal advice" is an email from the DEA. As he notes, the reasoning in the email is specious.

Update 2: I asked Peter Dunne about this on Twitter and he was emphatic that Customs acted on Crown Law advice in their treatment of Mr Stein. Crown Law may in turn be advised by the Ministry of Health, but if that's who guided Customs' response, questions need to be asked there.


Friday Music: The mixtape and me

My friend Andrew Dubber revealed in a blog post this week that he's working on a book he envisages as "a sociology of music curation" – or, to put it more prosaically: "Mixtapes. Playlists. Compilations."

As Andrew notes, he has some form in this area:

When I worked as a professor at a university in the UK, my ‘Music Programming for Radio’ undergrad class was sometimes referred to as Mixtapes 101. It was about how music connects to other music, how to select music for an audience or an environment, and how to both construct and read playlists as pieces of communication.

But the joy of this topic is that we all have form here.

I thought about it last night and realised that I began making mixtapes with the family cassette player in the mid-70s. I didn't call them mixtapes, of course: they were tapes filled with songs I'd recorded from Casey Kasem's American Top 40, which I would listen to every Saturday afternoon in my room, my finger poised over the record button.

Sometimes  I'd miss something new (the first time I heard Patti Smith's 'Because the Night' was a serious moment) and have to pray it would stay in the chart another week so I catch it. You needed to be able to parse Casey's teasers to anticipate when a certain song was coming.

Once I had these songs on the tape, I'd play and play them, which meant I heard 'Dust in the Wind' by Kansas more than any human should. This was a limited form of curation: I could pick the songs, but not their order, and if one song in the middle turned out to be a dud, I was basically stuck with it.

What I've also realised is that my mixtape-making has always been contingent on circumstances: access to new music, disposable income, the needs of friends, technology.

So when I started going around to my friend John's place and taping his brother's record collection, I recorded whole albums (hello Jesus Christ Superstar original soundtrack!). And when I began to have a little more money to spend on records, from punk at what came next, it was all about those records. Having them was the thing.

Indeed, I don't recall doing a lot of mixtape-making again until I lived in London and had access to a world of new records that my friends back home in New Zealand didn't. So I'd compile them and send 'em back to the colonies. When I came back for the summer at the end of 1988, I had a tape of the best of the house music tracks I'd bought during the year. I dubbed it off for my cousins and they took it back to Levin, where I gather it made them very popular girls.

I was definitely fully curating at this stage: thinking about, as Andrew puts it, "the right next song". I got pretty damn good with the Pause button – a tight edit was about as close you could get to an actual mix and I'd sometimes even drop in short snippets between tracks. One time I even voiced my friend's name into a clip from Keith Le Blanc's 'Malcolm X: No Sellout'. It sounded quite convincing.

Not long after I arrived back in Auckland with a new family, my friends Hilary Ord and Janet Sergeant opened the Verona on  K Road and I earned some coffee credit by by making a different kind of mixtape – a really long kind – on VHS tapes for them to play in the cafe. 

The next major era of mixtape-making started in 1998, with the arrival of Cassady and Greene's SoundJam, which Apple soon purchased and turned into the first iteration of iTunes. It wasn't a whole lot of use until it was possible to write to CD, and even then there were various quaint technical shackles on the extent to which it was possible to rip, mix and burn. But yes, anti-piracy campaigns notwithstanding, I did spread the love on CD-R for a while.

Then there was the iPod. While my friends working for record companies were obliged to preach about the evils of illicit copying, they were early iPod adopters, and – because there was no local iTunes store and thus literally no legitimate way of actually using an iPod – they all became pirate playlisters too.

The iTunes Store itself, of course, provoked a shift to single tracks and away from albums. A trend for overlong albums (it's an extremely rare album that justifies a 70-minute run time) gave way to a world where you could just pick the tracks you liked.

Ironically, and even after DRM on paid music downloads went away, this new era made the sharing of mixtapes paradoxically more difficult. Sure, you could put all the songs on a flash drive for someone, but they'd be there  in the order the file system had them – and not the order in which you had carefully placed them.Sharing the "right next song" was no longer possible. (Actually, it is – and here's how you do it.)

As things settled out, I began making two distinct kinds of playlists in iTunes. One was for incoming singles, edits, remixes and other one-offs from Soundcloud and the like – a monthly record (and mostly titled by the month) of what was new, or new to me. Mostly, but not exclusively, forms of dance music. I started listening to fewer albums and more dance music.

The other kind was different. I started making longer playlists, most of them themed (downtempo, dance, indie gold). They went on my iPod or iPhone and were used on the road – a hotel room can be a lonely place with out your music – and at home.

I got into a habit of making a long (I think I have a nine-hour one) playlist for each summer, to play out on the deck, especially for parties (including parties of one). These are very much about the right next song – or, more often, group of songs. They'll typically start with some rocksteady reggae, or something like Daphne Walker, and then move through moods in the way I figure the party should go. So therell be four Clean songs in a row, then something else – and half an hour later, some dance grooves. I'm anticipating how the party should go – and to some extent, trying to influence the way it goes.

(The improvement of Apple's AirPlay technology means I can play them from my computer to three or four different devices in different parts of the house – all at the same time, if I choose.)

Over the years, my iTunes has consequently become a mess. I discovered that the easiest way to make a new playlist display higher in the iTunes sidebar was to prefix its title with an underscore. The next summer, it'd have to be two underscores. You can see where this goes.

And now, I'm the age of music streaming, the natural environment of the playlist, and I'm ... playing more full albums than I have in years. Well, why not? Everything is just there. Also, albums have come back to something like the length they were on vinyl. I will avail myself of playlists offered to me by Apple Music, but the means Apple provides within Apple Music for the making of personal playlists is just painful. Drag-and-drop has been replaced by a laborious plod through nested menus, for every song. I don't find making Spotify playlists all that congenial either, to be honest.

So that's me, for now. You may be wondering: have I made mixtapes to woo a girl? Oh yes. But that's a whole other story.


So: Laneway on Monday! The map of the new Abert Park venue and playing times are here. And while there's no any one act I'm dying to hear, I can certainly see a good musical path through the day, beginning with The Chills and then Bob Moses. You know what else Im looking forward to? Sitting on the grass under a tree.


One of the unsung treasures of the K Road precinct is the Auckland Old Folks Association Hall, or as it's invariably and lovingly referred to, "the Old Folks Ass".

(Pic by James Watkins, from here.)

As the association's Facebook page explains (I'd link to the website, but Google flags it as possibly hacked), the association was:

... founded in 1945 to provide social services for the elderly in an inner-city neighbourhood of social, cultural and demographic diversity, particularly through fostering gatherings among its members “irrespective of status or creed” in a hall designed for that purpose.

In 2011 the Association’s purposes were extended to support arts and cultural production, with a particular interest in performance and intergenerational cultural exchanges. While the association now also supports events by and for younger members, its humble past remains central to the Association’s mission, where art practices, activities, research and thought retain a connection to the ordinary demands of being a community.

Bands play there and as an unlicensed venue it's especially important to kids who are just beginning to discover the joys of live music. But it needs a new roof.

The association's committee has done an incredible job in raising $40,000 for the work – but they're $4300 short. They've set up a PledgeMe to bridge the gap. And as part of that Otis Mace and his friends are playing a benefit at the neaby Thirsty Dog tonight, where donations will be taken. However you care to do it, I think this is something worth chucking a little money towards.


Capture's Jon Ganley has some nice pictures from the Dinosaur Jr show on Monday night. I seem to be in the minority in not really digging it (way too loud for the room, and The Studio is a dysfunctional venue to the point of being dangerous), but I did really enjoy seeing Hex again. I caught some of their last song:


The Guardian has a wonderful feature marking the 30th anniversary of Steve "Silk" Hurley's 'Jack Your Body' going to number one in the UK singles chart (four months earlier, another Chicago house classic, Farley "Jackmaster" Funk's 'Love Can't Turn Around', had sneaked into the Top 10). Britain's enthusiastic embrace of the new, unfamiliar and highly disruptive form of music came as a huge surprise to the kids making, essentially for themselves and their friends, thousands of kilometres away. And then it changed popular music itself.

Top of the Pops didn't even have a proper video for 'Jack Your Body'. But Farley and Darryl Pandy had performed 'Love Can't Turn Around' in 1986, and that's still worth a play:


You know what's great? The new Flaming Lips album Oczy Mlody, that's what. It's mostly electronic, Wayne Coyne's bestie Miley Cyrus chips in – and I'm listening to it every day right now. Red Bull Music Academy Radio has an interview with Wayne Coyne that touches on many highlights of their 30-year career – including the time they appeared on Beverley Hills 90210.



A lovely remix of Yumi Zouma's 'Catastrophe' (free download):

And Karim comes up with a lovely dub of the Marley classic (click through to purchase):



Up with the Pacer: embracing an e-bike

Last week, my e-bike finally arrived, having gone missing for nearly a month on what turned out to be a mistaken courier trip to Taupo. But it's here now, it's SmartMotion's Pacer model and I am impressed.

I am also a little bit perplexed. When I wrote a couple of sponsored blog posts about trying e-bikes and their prospects for easing traffic congestion, the client (Mercury) specifically asked that I not blog about the Pacer, and instead concentrate on the E-City. SmartMotion itself seems not to have particularly pushed the Pacer either.

I get that the E-City is more affordable and perhaps more suitable for new riders – but I'm very grateful to the correspondent on Twitter who told me that the Pacer was a far superior bike, because it is. Its advantages over the E-City* range from the battery mounting (on the frame, rather than the rear rack) to the tyres, the display panel and the integrated lighting, including the "flood strip" built into the frame.

But most of all, for me, it's the torque sensor over the cadence sensor – it really does, as I had read, feel more natural to someone already used to riding bikes. It also obviates the need for a throttle – if you know how to work the gears, you can take off quickly enough not to need one.

Okay, speed. My light, narrow-tyred unpowered hybrid street bike is probably still quicker off the mark if I'm trying hard, but past the first three metres, the Pacer is a racer. And that presents problems in itself.

A fair part of riding in Auckland traffic is looking ahead at what some fool might be doing to risk your safety. It's easy enough to belt along at 35-40 km/h on this thing (NZ e-bikes are limited to a 300 watt motor, but there's not a limiter that drops the assist at 25 km/h, as is the case with European bikes) and if you're doing that, the whole safety equation changes.

You need to be looking a lot further ahead and be gauging your ability to stop differently. If you come off your bike or collide with a car at 40 km/h, you'll be a bigger mess than you would be on an ordinary bike. Given that I've been hit by errant drivers (in my car) twice in the last six months, I'm a bit edgy about this anyway. So that's taken some getting used to.

I'm also still getting used to how I relate to following cars. When should I give way and when should I just take the lane? I've already discovered that I can  come off the slope on Meola Road and be doing 50 km/h on the flat – and still have cars roar past me. Apparently no one drives to the speed limit on Meola Road.

Of course, you don't need to go full-tilt all the time and I think there's a philosphical shift in simply going slower and enjoying the ride. Your battery will last longer anyway.

But I'm finding even a measured ride on this thing is getting me places far quicker and with less effort. About 12-15 minutes from my house in Point Chev to K Road quick. One of my goals with riding has always been to replace car journeys, and the Pacer has greatly increased the number of car journeys it's practical to replace.

Of course, one of my other goals is to maintain a level of fitness and I haven't quite worked out my relationship with my sweet unpowered Fuji street bike – for the reason that I haven't sat on it since the e-bike arrived. The Pacer isn't particularly heavy for an e-bike, but it's a bloody bus compared to the Fuji. There will be times when it's more fun to nip around on the light bike, surely. Work up a sweat. Must do that.

There's one more thing: security. The Pacer is worth $3600 and I had a bike (indemnity value for insurance: $320) stolen last year and that sucked. I've fitted a steel ring into the porch to lock up both bikes at home, but I don't think I'm going to be really comfortable about leaving the Pacer locked up out in the world until I shell out for a good-quality D-lock rather than a combination lock.

But, for now, I'm very happy with my new e-bike.

*The Pacer's advantage over the Catalyst lies in the fact that it's silly to encourage people to ride a knobbly-tyred mountain bike on the road – it's not a good experience. And I'm dubious about pedal-assist mountain bikes as a concept, frankly.


Taking the stage in Mount Albert

National probably made the right call when it declined to contest the Mount Albert by-election. After wheeling in the big guns in Roskill last year and getting thrashed, it would not have relished the prospect of Bill English's election year opening with a defeat. Indeed, that's the media narrative the new Prime Minister would look to avoid at all costs.

So it opted for the lesser evil of allowing Labour and the Greens to open their election year with two months' exposure for their respective platforms and – if they get it remotely right – two months of largely positive headlines.

Labour leader Andrew Little seemed well aware of  that when he spoke at the launch of Jacinda Ardern's Mount Albert campaign yesterday. Indeed, he took the opportunity – rare enough these past few years – to mock the governing party.

"They really believed they were going to win!" he chirped of National's experience in Mount Roskill. He talked about his own party having "the wind in our sails from Mount Roskill and the local body elections last year." He actually looked like he believed it.

He also looked ... different.

Andrew Little no longer wears spectacles, at least while he's out on the big jobs. He had a sharp haircut and his suit, with a dark open-neck shirt, looked tailored. Perhaps I'm imagining it, but this guy:

Looked a lot cooler than this guy:

The biggest speech I've heard Little give in person was last year's State of the Nation in Albert Park. And while the substance of that speech (free tertiary education) was strong, it felt like we were being asked to make allowances for his lack of charisma in delivering it. He (ahem) laboured through dud jokes, sincere but clearly not one of nature's orators.

Yesterday, he seemed a more relaxed and confident speaker. He told one joke (about being able to tell he was in Auckland by the floor-to-ceiling mirrors) which wasn't exactly a Billy T winner, but wasn't too bad either. He expressed some political philosophy, hit points about housing, education and transport, and it flowed.

Perhaps it's just another year in the job – or perhaps what Simon Wilson described recently as an "Andy Plan" actually exists.

Little needs a small crew of high-powered advisers to take charge of his public appearances. I’d say, five. First, a director of theatre and television to train him in oratory and compelling presence, on stage and on screen. Seriously, he needs to rehearse with an expert.

Next, a writer for those inspirational and confidence-building speeches, with the rhetorical skills to craft phrases that set news bulletins and social media alight. Third, a stylist. Fourth, a media trainer to work on how to give better answers to journalists. And last, overseeing it all, someone who will make him take all this seriously.

Of course, he has people in some of these roles already. But it’s not working, guys. You need to up your game or step aside.

On the other hand, I wholly disagree with Simon's contention (and that of Phil Quin, who I'm much more accustomed to disagreeing with) that it's unfortunate that Little himself is not Labour's candidate in Mount Albert.

That would have been a very awkward path to take. An "I don't care where so long as I'm mayor" decision. Labour flying in a leader with no connection with Auckland in the hope he might get a seat to call his own.

And the perception of Ardern being shoved aside by the party would have been damaging. Ardern has a real claim on being considered the local candidate here in Mt Albert, not least because successive boundary changes mean her natural support base actually now lies in Mount Albert. You could say that she didn't leave Auckland Central, Auckland Central left her.

She's popular in Auckland. She is, although she'd be obliged to cringe at the idea, something of a celebrity here. She has useful connections with the local body left. And as of a couple of months ago (and before David Shearer resigned), she lives in the electorate, in Point Chevalier.

She's also a hard-working campaigner. Encouraged by the evidence that what Labour did in Mt Roskill works, her team will do a lot of old-fashioned door-knocking. She alludes to that at the end of this clip:

It wasn't an accident that she later invited any new volunteers to join her in going out and knocking on doors immediately after the event – promising beers at the end of the day. Being on Team Jacinda might look like a cool thing to do.

Certain other commentators have declared that the Greens' decision to stand Julie Anne Genter in Mt Albert is a disaster. It really is not. It's a perfect opportunity for both parties to show that they can engage in a respectful contest of ideas within an overall understanding of cooperation.

It might have been otherwise with different candidates, but Ardern and Genter are grown-ups. They like each other personally. They have things in common – while Ardern was speaking at the Women's March in Auckland on Saturday, Genter was addressing its sister rally in Wellington. (They both also have informed perspectives on drug policy – the difference being that while Genter can actually talk about policy, Ardern is confined to wearily acknowledging that any reform is "not a priority" for her party this year.)

The Mount Albert electorate has had only four different members, all from the Labour Party, since it was created in 1946 (and one of those only lasted a year before dying) and half of them became the MP in a by-election. The odds are that on February 26 it'll be three out of five. The challenge for Labour and its friendly rival will be to see that that plays out in a way that is as beneficial as possible for both of them.