So Trade Minister Todd McClay is unavailable for comment because – reportedly – he has gone overseas on a private trip. (Siberia? Outer Mongolia?) Any skepticism on this point reflects the credibility problem that McClay is going to face in future if he stays in his current job. Having been misled in the past, why should the public believe anything that McClay says in future?
As NZF leader Winston Peters was saying yesterday, McClay’s obvious difficulty in getting his story straight is part of a wider credibility problem with this government. Time and again, whenever an issue arises the initial response by government is to deny or diminish the problem – nothing to worry about here, everything’s OK, move on. In McClay’s initial version, China’s threat to retaliate if we pursue dumping allegations over their steel was only ‘hypothetical’ – and was intimated to be a media creation that people shouldn’t take seriously.
Then, hang on. In line with the usual pattern, as embarrassing details emerged into daylight, the story changed. Oh, McClay had somehow ‘forgotten’ he was briefed on this issue only a week beforehand. Then, a bit later: oh, actually MFAT has been working on this issue for the past few months. Over which period, supposedly neither McClay and/or officials had thought to adequately brief Prime Minister John Key. McClay has apologised to the PM for that alleged lapse.
It has been a classic protect-the-leader response. Note: McClay apologized to Key for exposing him to criticism, and not to the New Zealand public for repeatedly misleading them. That’s the first rule in these kind of scandals: protect the leader at all costs. (Under the previous administration, misleading Helen Clark was a hanging offence.) Key however, seems to run a somewhat more flexible ship. From the outside – and given the preference for plausible narrative lines over truth – it is impossible to tell what John Key has or hasn’t known in recent weeks and months about China’s problems with steel dumping allegations and their potential local relevance. Not to mention what Key has known about the laying of complaints over steel dumping and the possible Chinese response to any subsequent investigation.
All the same, this issue has been in the headlines for months in the UK, in Europe and in the US. China is our biggest trading partner. It strains belief to think that neither Key nor DPMC have ever discussed this issue with MFAT, or among themselves, or with industry lobbyists, or with McClay.
Currently, the Key government is still locked in re-assurance mode. Allegedly, no threat of retaliation by the Chinese exists if and when we choose to investigate complaints about steel dumping, assuming that such complaints have been laid with MBIE – which, for administrative reasons under WTO rules, the government cannot currently confirm or deny. But trust them: everything will be OK. China won’t get mad at us. Promise. Nothing to see here. Just a lavishly paid Minister in a crucial Cabinet post who is chronically unable to get his story straight. Business as usual, in other words. Move on.
The flap at the Democratic Party convention over the Wikileaked emails that show the party leadership had been partisan during the primary campaign will confirm the belief among Bernie Sanders supporters that they were robbed.
Democratic Party chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a polarising figure in the Democratic Party for years – there were strong moves to unseat her in 2012 – and she has now taken the only viable option, and resigned.
In the context of this year’s election though, it is something of a storm in a teacup. In 2016, both major parties saw outsider candidates emerge (Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders) who were running against the status quo, and against its candidates. Is it entirely surprising that some in the entrenched party leadership should resent their campaigns, and push back against them?
It seems clear from the emails that some of Schulz’ staff did act to block Sanders. Those emails were disgraceful. One could also confidently bet that if equivalent emails by Republican Party chairperson Reince Priebus were made public, they would tell an even worse story of partisanship and blocking manoeuvres that were pursued for months by the GOP hierarchy in their vain attempt to save the Republican Party from a hostile takeover by Trump.
That doesn’t exonerate Schulz. It just underlines how hard it is for an outsider to overcome the institutionalized power of an entrenched political bureaucracy. Would Sanders had beaten Hillary Clinton if Schulz and Co hadn’t been partisan? Probably not. Yet with good reason, it will confirm the sense of grievance among Sanders supporters about the bias evident during the primary campaign, and the need for ultimately holding the party leadership to account.
How and when to do so? As Sanders has been telling the convention in Philadelphia, this residue of rancour about the past can’t be allowed to divide and distract from the immediate task at hand: which is to defeat Trump. However, what Clinton will need to do is make policy concessions that compensate the left for the way their own party has treated them.
Unfortunately, the Democratic Party – since Bill Clinton in 1992 – has been rather more inclined to take its left wing activists entirely for granted over the past 30 years. In that respect, the significant speech at the Philadelphia convention will not have been Sanders’ speech, but the speech yet to be delivered by Elizabeth Warren. It will be up to Warren to make a case for party unity at this time, but without giving away entirely the ground that Sanders has won.
Footnote: Amusingly, Reince Prebus hasn’t gone out of his way to deny the rumours that the Russians hacked the Democratic Party emails and leaked them in order to help get Trump elected. As Prebus says, the Russians didn’t write the emails. True. Yet the prospect that Vladimir Putin really wants to see Donald Trump in the White House – and thereby wreaking havoc on the Western alliance – is pretty chilling. It’s like something out of a Stephen King novel. Especially since that chaotic Republican convention seems to have delivered Trump a major bounce, and sent him surging past Clinton in the opinion polls.
To China, with love
As Todd McClay heads off somewhere overseas, here’s a suitably creepy song for him. And for all of us waiting (for comment) on a faraway shore…