Gordon Campbell on the America’s Cup

With hindsight, the $5 million that then-Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce grudgingly allocated back in 2013 to keep the America’s Cup squad together has proved to be one of the government’s more successful exercises in belt tightening. Buckets of taxpayer money had been thrown at the failed San Francisco challenge, which had been state funded to the tune of $36 million. This time around though, the Emirates New Zealand team were forced to show greater self reliance, and eventually attracted the bulk of the necessary funding from various sponsors. Good for them.

Clearly, large dollops of corporate welfare – in the form of major state funding for elite sport or corporate tax cuts – would only serve to obstruct similar sterling demonstrations of self reliance and innovation by the advantaged, more often than it encourages their initiative. This time, our elite yachties drew largely on their own efforts, although not without a fair share of controversy along the way.

Despite our last few decades of achievement in America’s Cup yachting, this still seems a surprising field of excellence for this country. The fact New Zealand now reigns supreme once again in the most sophisticated contest in the world’s most elite sport – yacht racing – can’t help but reflect the trajectory the country has been on since the 1980s. Only a fortnight ago, Te Kuiti unveiled a statue to Sir Colin Meads, the epitome of New Zealand’s egalitarian era of amateur sport. Back then, the nation’s multi-tasking sporting heroes would commonly be running their own farms while representing their country. Obviously, that situation had its drawbacks, but one result was that elite sport used to feel more like a collective, shared experience. It was our team, composed of people who lived and worked like us. Now, not so much.

No doubt, the technological expertise – and the sailing prowess – on display in Bermuda has been admirable. It has been a shining example of the high end, added value expertise that New Zealand often talks about as being its future, but which we only rarely deliver on. (The film industry has been our other prime example of tech-driven successful innovation.)

That said, the success in Bermuda also had something of a retro feel to it – in that the victory celebrations have echoed the 1980s sentiment that when an elite succeeds, this supposedly lifts all of our boats. It doesn’t, of course – not on the sports field and nor in the marketplace, either. Increasingly, success is a spectator sport, with the opportunity to participate being reserved for the privileged, and for those blessed (virtually from birth) with the necessary contacts. Nearly 20 years ago, in one of its earliest efforts, the Onion website effectively lampooned the sentiment that success at competitive yachting is a win for all of us:

”There were a bunch of boats out there on the water, with all these rich guys running around on them, moving ropes from here to there and switching sails around to, you know, try to make the boats go faster, I guess,” said 61-year-old Newport-area dockworker Bill Duigan, who witnessed the rich guy’s stunning 11th-hour victory from more than three miles away while hosing bird shit off a pier. “I couldn’t see what was going on too well, on account of they were way the hell out there on the water, but from where I stood, I guess I’d have to say it looked like that one with the blue sails was movin’ at a pretty good clip. I heard he was the one that won.”

Duigan was then yelled at to quit talking and get back to work. The victory marks the approximately 87,000th consecutive yacht race to be won by a rich guy since competitive yachting began, oh, probably a hell of a long time ago, sources figured.

Three months out from the election, the government will now be doing its utmost (in Auckland electorates especially) to capitalise on the ‘feel good’ factor now sweeping the nation, from an effort that the government actually did very little to support. Yet as circuses go, the America’s Cup is the best in town. With a bit of luck and a favourable wind, you should almost be able to hear the celebrations at harbour side, all the way down in South Auckland. But not quite.

Labouring On

Talking of retro… last week’s calamitous events for Labour have carried echoes of its 2014 campaign, where Labour was continually trying to explain itself out of jams that were largely of its own making. Whatever the details of the response to the foreign interns/immigration fiasco – blame Matt McCarten for exceeding his brief, claim some of these interns were actually having a great time – real damage has been done to Labour’s ability to project itself as an efficient government-in-waiting.

The effect on internal morale? This election, the centre-left seems to be going through something of an identity crisis – in that Labour appears reliant for its strategic direction on focus groups thrown together in a room and mined for usable narrative lines, some grounded in prejudice. Thus, on immigration and law‘n’order, Labour has been seeking to outbid New Zealand First. On water policy and farming, Labour last week also laid itself open to stories like this then had to back track and correct the impressions it had given. It went down like this:

Labour has vowed to charge a royalty on the use of water for farming. At last week’s Federated Farmers annual conference, party leader Andrew Little appeared to change stance on its election policy held since 2011, which was to charge a resource rental on farmers who use water for irrigation, and discharge too many nutrients.

After Little delivered his speech to the conference. Feds environment spokesperson Chris Allen praised him for saying farmers and politicians were “all in this together. I’d like you to congratulate you on your environment policy where you’ve abandoned the idea of resource rentals. Its not mentioned, but I imagine you’ve actually abandoned it.”

To which Little reportedly replied: “If you’re talking about the old water policy, yeah that’s not our policy. And we’re not standing on that, and you shouldn’t expect to see that.” By the following Sunday, Labour had ‘clarified’ its position. Cleaning up rivers to make them once again swimmable was seen as the most important freshwater issue facing the country, and a royalty charge would indeed be levied by a Labour-led government whenever large quantities of public water was being used for private gain. O-kay?

The impression is one of incoherence. Of late, the party has been dancing on the right wing cusp to try and lure in conservative voters, before diving back to the centre when its core supporters react in horror. Not a good look, and hardly inspirational. Especially not when Jeremy Corbyn has been demonstrating the gains a Labour party can make by fearlessly taking the opposite tack.

Haim, again

The Haim sisters were an onstage hit at Laneways a few years ago, and their set at Glastonbury this year was also one of the festival’s reported highlights. Of the three singles to date from the new album, this one strikes me as the standout:

The other smash hit at Glastonbury was, of course, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s speech – his ‘build bridges, not walls’ theme rejected the fears that have been driving the hostility to immigration – got a terrific reception, and the chant “oh, Jeremy Corbyn” (sung to the tune of the White Stripes ‘Seven Nation Army’) marked almost every set at Glastonbury. Fittingly, Corbyn introduced Run the Jewels. Here’s a key part of Corbyn’s speech: