Gordon Campbell on David Cunliffe’s latest troubles

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. The gaffes he has made have not been major. We are not talking about economic disasters on the scale of National’s asset sales programme, which will penalize New Zealanders for decades to come. Nor can Prime Minister John Key credibly portray Cunliffe as the leader of a motley group of leftists, when Key himself seems happy to rely on the motley likes of Winston Peters, Colin Craig, Peter Dunne and the Act Party’s David Seymour to form his next government.

Cunliffe, however, has comprehensively failed to offer a credible alternative to the dismal Key administration. The succession of gaffes may have been trivial. Yet they were evidence of a team that seems unable to anticipate the attack lines from National, and which seems either panicked by them, or retreats instantly into a defensive crouch to limit the damage. Labour has shown no ability at confidently stating a policy, rebutting the predictable criticism and moving an argument forwards – not at least, without sounding condescending as it does so. Labour may have had a vision, but few New Zealanders have wanted to pursue it in the company of David Cunliffe. The polls indicate that Labour is headed for a catastrophe of the sort that befell National in 2002.

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.

Fishing expedition
Whatever you may think of Kim Dotcom personally, he is being well and truly shafted by the New Zealand justice system. In the recent past, our highest courts have found against Dotcom when he has sought the evidence that the US is relying on for its extradition proceedings; yet when the Crown wants access to the research materials that local journalist David Fisher has used to write his book on Dotcom, journalistic privilege has been swept aside, and Fisher will now have to cough up his sources, notes and raw interview materials.

The Fisher judgement has been based on making a distinction between journalism in the form of conventional news reporting and long, investigative articles or programmes on one hand – and non-fiction books on the other. Fisher has already talked to RNZ about the bizarre logic of changing the legal protections on the basis of whether the end product is really long, and has a cover on it – even when the work methods, social purpose and serious intent are exactly the same as with a news item that IS protected by law from these kind of fishing expeditions. On this ruling, if you contribute to an investigative article you’re safe from the retribution by the state – yet once that article becomes a book, you’re not. Not if the state has been so royally pissed off that it still wants to pursue the matter in court.

As things stand, Dotcom is apparently compelled to serve as a proxy for the Crown and has to demand the materials from Fisher – and then hand them over to the Crown. It will get messy when and if Fisher does not supply exactly what the Crown is looking for. All this seems to be a function of the narrow legal ambit of the Privacy Act. It is a civil liberties issue on which all journalists and writers should take a stand, on Fisher’s behalf.

The White Man’s Burden, and Treasure
Well before Peter Gabriel, world music had an ancestral founding figure in the shape of a remarkable Rhodesian farmer called Hugh Tracey. Starting out as a teenager in 1921, Tracey was a self-made folklorist who searched out and recorded over 50 years’ worth of African songs and instrumentals of all kinds from around what was then Rhodesia, Tanganyika and the Congo. Here are a few Tracey tracks that have since found their way to a global audience.

“Skokiaan”, for instance, was written by a guy called August Musarurwa within a group called The African Dance Band of The Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia. Tracey cut a great single with them: “Skokiaan” on one side and a fantastic version, with vocals, of Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” on the other. Thankfully, Tracey ensured that Musarurwa copyrighted the “Skokiaan” track – later, the song became a huge US hit in the 1950s for Ralph Marterie and his Orchestra. In the Shona language, “Skokiaan” refers to the name of an alcoholic drink made from methylated spirits, and other bad stuff. In the US, the Cold Storage Band single was released under the catchier name of the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythm band. I’ve also tossed in a clip of Hugh Tracey talking about the African music and musical instruments he loved.


1 Comment on Gordon Campbell on David Cunliffe’s latest troubles

  1. Touched:
    Well my gosh, how delightful. Yes obviously it’s the political journalism, Mr Campbell, but spotting this delightful little number on Hugh Tracey, with his impeccably elegant pronunciation, and the addictive little song Skokiaan has brightened my day. I’ve had a kalimba – Hugh Tracey’s answer to the m’bira for western thumbs – for years. A friend visited the workshop where they’re made, and the spirit of the old man is still revered to the skies. Thank you. xx

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