Eat A Peach, Yankee Slickers

After one of the more bizarre elections in world history, attention remains fixed on the American state of Georgia. It is the only state that is in full recount mode, because, or despite of, there being a Republican Party member as the Governor. There hasn’t been this much attention on Georgia since 1976, when the then Governor, a Democrat, was about to become the POTUS.


The Governor, Jimmy Carter, is on the right of the photo. Next to him is Dickie Betts, guitarist in the Allman Brothers Band. To his right is Phil Walden, the founder of Capricorn Records, the label that introduced so-called ‘Southern Rock’. And next to him is Gregg Allman, of the Allman Brothers Band. Presumably, they were not discussing electoral results. Jimmy Carter went on to be a one term President; Dickie Betts came and went from the Allman Brothers band over the years; Phil Walden’s business empire collapsed in the late 1970s, taking out Capricorn Records; and Gregg got divorced (from Cher) not long after this was taken.

But Southern Rock lived on, mostly through the work of a band called Lynyrd Skynyrd. That band had not jumped on the Capricorn Records bandwagon. Instead, they were discovered by a Yankee Slicker, in the form Al Kooper, who managed to sign them to a big label, MCA Records. This put them in the big league, and thus had much more international exposure, allowing them to appear with big British bands like The Who. Skynyrd had much more Southern attitude than the Allmans: as they put it in the song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, they loved the Republican Governor, and didn’t care about Watergate. Their leader, Ronnie van Sant, had the southern schtick, and the group played in front of the Confederate flag. But he was also no fool, and he soon parted company with the Yankee Slicker, once they had achieved a commercial breakthrough. Ronnie van Sant died in a plane crash in 1977, but the legend lives on, and the cash still flows every time ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ plays on classic rock radio around the world.

This was something of an allegory. You could call Donald Trump a Yankee Slicker, and a snake oil salesmen. Many in the news media like to do the old vox pops, and find a Trump supporter who believes every word he says. Maybe some are that gullible. But others are possibly just playing along, having launched their cultural posture back into prominence. Just like rock n’ roll was always Southern music, so are all real Americans.


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New Zealand Election 2020: It’s all about Jacinda

This was meant to be a longer post about the New Zealand election, and how the MMP system might finally be working here. But it is shorter for two reasons. The first is that WordPress have changed the format for writing a post, which I can’t work out yet. And the second is that the election was all about Jacinda, and her celebrity status. With no Covid to worry about at the time of the election, Jacinda just went on walk-abouts, mostly in malls, with a coterie of security, media, and Labour MPs. The media just filmed each of these, while their other reporters found dissension in the official Opposition party. All the debates were between Jacinda and the Opposition leader, who was nowhere near as popular. End of story, pretty much, maybe policies next time.

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Music Festivals and help from ‘Perfect Strangers’

As certain publications celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Isle of Wight festival, one has to wonder whether we will ever see such musical gatherings again. They used to be all the rage, even here in New Zealand, where the tribes would gather at such places as Sweetwaters or Nambassa, in the North Island, for two or three days of drugs and music. I recall my cousin driving up from the South Island for such events in February, at the hottest time of the year, just as I was starting the school term. But, by the time I got to the age for going to such festivals, they were going out of fashion, or out of business.

In truth, I never did like such large gatherings of people, and even smaller concerts could be uncomfortable. I went to a so-called concert by Motorhead in Wellington, about 1984, and my hearing hasn’t been the same since, they were truly awful. At the time I was mostly into Deep Purple, and through my early years at secondary school this had become something of an obsession. My schoolmates and I were in some kind of a cult, even though Purple had long since disbanded in 1976. But the Purple brand was kept alive through all sorts of issues of compilation albums and unreleased live material.

Then in 1984 the classic Mark 2 line-up of Deep Purple re-formed, and released the Perfect Strangers LP. In truth, it was not great album, although the title track is certainly a good song, but the show was back on the road. And that meant a world tour, which included dates in Australia and New Zealand. In a documentary I recall the guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, stating that he liked travelling, but not so much that he wanted to go down under. But Deep Purple, with Blackmore in tow, did make it in late 1984. And somehow me and my friend Eamon managed to get there, even though it took all of my savings to afford the ticket, and the cost of an all night train to Auckland and back.

I had unfortunately left the organisation of our accommodation in Auckland to Eamon and his parents. The venue for the concert was to be Western Springs, a motor-racing site that is quite close to central Auckland. However, we had arranged to stay at a house in the North Shore, which is over the harbour bridge. When we got into the train station in central Auckland, very early in the morning, we had to find a bus that could take us over the bridge. Any bus would do, but we got lucky with a driver that took us on a detour to get us close to the destination, when he should have gone the other way. The kindness of strangers continued when we got to our hosting house. It was meant to be the residence of Eamon’s father’s friend, whom Eamon had never met. But when we got there we found out that he had long left the family, and the result was that we were complete strangers.

They put us up anyway, while the man’s son explained to us what the situation was. He was bit older than us, and it turned out he was in a local rock/alternative group called the Screaming Mee Mees. Obviously Deep Purple was not his thing, but he took it upon himself to get us to the concert, which was quite a long journey. He also had to find us after the concert, but I can’t remember how he managed it. This was over and above the call of duty, and I only wish has musical career had not been so short lived. Our time at the concert did not start well, as we had to be checked when going in, and Eamon had tried to bring a camera in, so his roll of film was confiscated. My only other memory is that the band tried to play Smoke on the Water as an encore, but Ritchie Blackmore didn’t bother to come back out for it. He didn’t last that much longer in the band. Years later I was intending to see Deep Purple with a female friend, but she bailed out, so 1984 will probably be the only time I get to see them. I haven’t seen Eamon since he left school.

After the obsession with Deep Purple ended I picked up on other English groups from the 1970s, particularly the group known as Free. Free was big in 1970, and was one of the major acts at the Isle of Wight Festival that year, after All Right Now became a hit single. Photographs by Charles Everest were published this year in the Guardian:


This shows the singer Paul Rodgers trying to rev up the crowd, while the guitarist, Paul Kossoff, hits a no doubt anguished note. What a player Kossoff was, and what a mane of hair he had, especially as he was really quite short in stature. I’m not sure why Kossoff is not mentioned in the same category as Peter Green, especially in terms of technique, but his time was short. Koss died in 1976 on a trans-Atlantic flight, after some years of drug abuse. Paul Rodgers went on to form Bad Company, and achieve success in the U.S.A.

I also can’t resist including this photo of Clive Bunker, from the 1970 festival, the original drummer in Jethro Tull, when the group could really play:


Tull obviously had the advantage of playing at night, and having adequate lighting for the gig. This could not be said of the The Doors, who played one of their last gigs at the Isle of Wight festival, and didn’t bring any of their own lighting. As shown in a documentary of their performance, they relied predominately on one red light most of the time. In fact, this seems to have led them to kind of huddle together, in what was a performance of great concentration, where they found a really intense groove in the extended improvised tracks. That was last time we would see Jim Morrison; and, of course, it was (virtually) the last time that Jimi Hendrix would perform. The end of an era, even if it was still the beginning of the rock music culture, such as it was.




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Not Forgetting the Engineer: Martin Birch

Not a day seems to go by when some important figure from the music world, as it emerged in the 1960s and 70s, passes away. Following Peter Green, and of the most relevance to me was Martin Birch, not a musician, but recording engineer for Fleetwood Mac and many other English rock groups. Such is the cultural power of that period in music that even an engineer can be mourned, despite the fact that he retired from the role about 30 years ago, aged 42. He was actually a bit younger than Green and most of the other musicians he worked with early on, so got the dream job at a very young age.

It was certainly the age of the young artist, and Martin Birch was described as the catalyst for much of the music, particularly the rise of Deep Purple. In the press he was described as a ‘heavy metal producer’, due to his work with Iron Maiden. But we can forgive him for that. He should be remembered for his role in a run of classic LPs in the early 1970s, beginning with Deep Purple in Rock in 1970, and the period in which he also engineered for Fleetwood Mac and Wishbone Ash. My interest here is to look at a few of these albums, and try to see them as a particular genre, not the forerunner of ‘heavy metal’. Birch was so busy in 1971 and 72 it must be seen as a kind of peak of British rock.

Fleetwood Mac continued on without Peter Green after he left in 1970, with Birch being the engineer for Green’s solo album End of the Game, and the Mac LP Kiln House. Then Jeremy Spencer left for a religious cult, leaving Danny Kirwan as leader, and they recruited American guitarist, Bob Welch. Welch wrote the title track for the next LP, Future Games, and added his particular songwriting touch to that of Kirwan and Christine McVie. The track ‘Future Games’ is a strange one, and rather long, with Welch’s multi-tracked vocal kind of buried in the mix, and with various over-dubbed guitar parts that sometimes seem out of place. It’s hard to believe that Martin Birch would have mixed it that way as the actual producer, but it was the early seventies after all. Mac went on to release Bare Trees in 1972, which I think is a great album, with all three songwriters on great form. Danny Kirwan’s guitar instrumental ‘Sunny Side of Heaven’ is truly beautiful, no doubt assisted by Martin Birch’s recording of the guitar tracks.

‘Bare Trees’ is an another guitar-laden track with some perfunctory vocal lines, but with a clear theme. Danny Kirwan was something of a master of a kind of autumnal feel in his songs, a shame I can’t describe it any better. But there is a clear similarity to the music of Wishbone As in this period. This was another twin guitar group, without any keyboards, and with most vocals handled by bass player, Martin Turner. Their 1971 LP Pilgrimage appears with stylized cover art of an old bare tree, and contains a number of moody instrumentals, in which the lead guitars of Andy Powell and Ted Turner weave around each other. This distinctive guitar style was honed even further on the classic album that followed, Argus, which had a kind of ancient warrior theme happening on the second side. There is also a very distinctive LP cover designed by the Hipgnosis guys.


Argus is the most well known LP by Wishbone Ash in a long career, and is closely associated with the twin lead guitar approach, and with Martin Birch. Along with Bare Trees, it comes from the same period as Deep Purple’s Machine Head, perhaps the best album in the British rock genre. It’s well known that Birch was in charge of the Rolling Stone mobile recording unit that was based in Montreux, Switzerland, in the middle of winter in 1971. As described in ‘Smoke on the Water’, Deep Purple ended up in an empty hotel for the recording session, and came up with some long-lived gems, such as Highway Star, Space Truckin and Lazy. Of course, Purple only had one guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, a man who could not have played with any other guitarist, and he wasn’t that keen on vocalists either. It was not long before vocalist Ian Gillan left, and while the follow up, Who do we think We are, wasn’t as successful, it still has a great sound.

In fact, the recording of those four Purple LPs changed fairly clearly over time. The breakthrough album, In Rock, has a deliberately raw sound. It’s almost as if Birch was still a novice at this point, not able to use all the tracks available in the studio; or, perhaps, that he didn’t use the latest technology. Though I’m not an expert on these things, sometimes it seems that groups did try to use all the tracks they could, and end up with a song that is too busy, a possible criticism of some of Bob Welch’s stuff. But In Rock sounded like a group in a hurry, with a live feel to the recording. The first side is one of the classics in rock: going from Speed King into Bloodsucker; and then the epic Child in Time, where Jon Lord’s organ playing has a classical feel, before we get to Ian Gillan’s so-called ‘silver throated’ screaming, and Blackmore’s extended guitar solo (then a reprise of Gillan’s screams). But what a tour de force the album is, and even if the second side is less memorable, it still has momentum, ending with Hard Loving Man. And with iconic cover art.

in rock

One of the interesting things about the Deep Purple albums in this period, and the Wishbone Ash LPs, was the format chosen. All the Purple LPs have seven songs, and with one side of three songs, it allows for an extended track. This usually worked well, except perhaps on the album that followed In Rock, called Fireball, which has a bit of a throwaway song, Anyone’s Daughter, ending side one; and then the second side loses its momentum in the middle track, The Mule. Ritchie Blackmore has suggested that the band had let the standards slip on Fireball, but it nonetheless still went to the top of the charts in Britain. Birch continued to produce for Purple until its temporary demise in 1976, the year that he worked with Blackmore’s new group Rainbow, producing the Rainbow Rising LP, which included Stargazer, recorded with the Munich symphony orchestra (something Blackmore was not usually keen on). And another iconic cover.


Rainbow also included the American singer Ronnie James Dio, who lasted in the group until 1978. He then replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath for two LPs, both produced by Martin Birch. These did not sound that much like the classic Black Sabbath, but were more melodic, and closer to Birch’s early 70s guitar sound than the Ozzy era band. But it also meant that Birch became the so-called heavy metal producer, and Iron Maiden called. So what to say about Birch: you lucky man, well played old son, a glorious career.


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Musicians as cultural icons: Peter Green

Guitarist and songwriter Peter Green died in London a week ago, and I have been going back through my Fleetwood Mac records, and Peter Green CDs since then. I have tried to find an iconic photo, and have chosen this one, probably from 1969:


Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac were huge in 1969, as he released his spellbinding singles from Albatross to the scarifying Green Manalishi (with the Two-pronged Crown). Green had actually moved on from being something of a blues purist, during the blues boom specific to British music at the time, but, like some of the old style black musicians of an earlier era, was obviously still haunted by something, which he could not quite express. This is despite the rather obvious lyrical content of songs like Man of the World.

Anyway, 1969 was the big year in rock music internationally, and was of course when Woodstock and other things made certain figures into cultural icons. It was also the year before Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died, and the cult figure was established as a youthful sacrifice of sorts. But in England the end of the 1960s became the moment of the genius as drug casualty, something that may have been true of Syd Barrett, and has been assumed to be true of Peter Green. Most of the reports and obituaries in the press just have to mention Green taking LSD and it all falling apart. Even some sympathetic writers and fans accept this version of events, even though it involves some exaggeration and distortion. One would expect the media to do this, even music magazines such as Mojo had one of its first issues include articles on both Barrett and Green, and the madness.

These articles were in 1994, but by 1997 Peter Green was back playing live, and though the same old cliches were still being written, the reviews had to note the enthusiasm of the crowd for their lost hero. And the fact that he could still play guitar in style, only somewhat diminished by age and all the turmoil of the interceding years. I too was pleased to hear of his comeback, and bought some of the new releases from Peter Green’s Splinter Group. Green was assisted by his friend Nigel Watson on guitar, and they managed to recruit one of Britain’s best rhythm sections in the form of Neil Murray (bass) and Cozy Powell (drums). Powell had played with some of the other English axe heroes, such as Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore, and didn’t last too long. On the night that the Splinter Group was recording their Soho Session live, Cozy Powell died in a car crash near his home aged 50. It seems that some kind of jinx still haunted this music.

However, Peter Green’s new group mostly played the American blues music that had so entranced young white men with six string guitars in the 1960s. This involved both the acoustic country blues of the 1930s, as exemplified by Robert Johnson, and the urban electric blues from Chicago, especially the so-called West side version, mainly created by Otis Rush. Peter Green’s Splinter Group did useful versions of Robert Johnson songs, but it was the urban blues of Otis Rush that remained the core of the set, including classics like It Takes Time and Homework. John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers had played the West side songs in the mid 1960s, with the young Eric Clapton on guitar, as well as Freddie King instrumentals; and Green of course replaced Clapton in the Bluesbreakers. Green’s Fleetwood Mac had even gone to Chess Records’ studio in Chicago, in early 1969, and recorded with some of the side musicians there, including a great version of Rush’s Homework. Fast forward to 1997 and Green could still play the song in that way.

There was always something odd about those young English white boys taking the old blues music back to America, with an added dose of enthusiasm and technique. Green and company could play the music, but did not sound like black blues men in timbre or phrasing. Yet it was Green most of all, who tried to understand more about it than say groups like Led Zeppelin, who used songs and blues phrases without crediting the original authors. But as players the Fleetwood Mac guitarists, Green, Jeremy Spencer, and Danny Kirwan, did contribute to the remaining blues cannon, such as it was in the late 1960s when the music was actually in decline in the black community. Green and company played on new LPs by Eddie Boyd, and the pianist Otis Spann, on an album called The Biggest Thing Since Collossus. These sessions were set up by the English producer Mike Vernon, whose Blue Horizon label gave some new opportunities to some of the older black players. Indeed, Otis Spann actually died not long after his LP was released.

It’s true that my Splinter Group CDs had been gathering dust for some time, though I listen to early Fleetwood Mac quite regularly. But listening to this 1997 incarnation is a pleasure, and the music still swings. Though his voice did deteriorate, Green could now sing the blues, and sound affected. It was actually his famous Fleetwood Mac songs that didn’t sound quite right. In truth, the young white guys put the rock into blues music, when it was only an element of the Chicago blues, and was exemplified by Otis Rush, one of the more unlucky of the black performers in terms of (not) being recorded in his prime. If one wants to hear rock meeting the blues full on, then there are the recordings of Fleetwood Mac at the Boston Tea Party in early 1970. Green and Danny Kirwan’s guitars duel on Black Magic Woman, and harmonise in other songs, while Jeremy Spencer really plays slide guitar on Can’t Hold Out and a swinging version of Madison Blues. But it is the ferocity of Green’s playing in the Green Manalishi which is astounding, certainly that of a man possessed, if not in anguish. If you like heavy blues playing that was it, there and then, but not a space which most players should want to get into, or could again. So Peter Green joins Danny Kirwan, lost souls but never to be forgotten.




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Seismic shifts and political earthquakes

Back to politics again. But first, it is the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere today, and I woke up at 6am to a rumbling earthquake. It turned out not to be a big earthquake, by our standards, but it was close by. And it came a couple of weeks after two rather larger ones off the west coast of the North Island, jolting the Wellington region. Just as we are enjoying the post-Covid 19 freedoms, and the ability to shop in actual shops now, there are natural disasters to worry about again.

Usually if I wake up early enough I try to catch the Sky News bulletin that is screened live on the Australian Sky News channel overnight. Of course, this is mostly to catch up on the political news in Britain, before reading the Guardian on-line later in the day. But it is rather difficult to watch British news now, for obvious reasons, but not just because of the pandemic and other losses of life. It is rather irritating watching the bumbling right wing ideologues pretending to be world-beating leaders, whether in Westminster or Washington. Yet, despite the obvious fiasco taking place, the Conservatives still lead on.

Certain sections of the international media like to focus on New Zealand, or, more particularly, Jacinda Ardern, our Prime Minister. In the first place this is because of the elimination of Covid-19 here, and the accessibility of a leader speaking to the public without the baffling waffle and nonsense that conservative white men offer. Of course there was a bit of a wobble this week, when two women returning from the UK were let out of quarantine and turned out to have the virus, after not being tested while they were in their luxury hotel accommodation. There were also questions for the health administrators, after they claimed that the women drove from Auckland to Wellington without having to stop for petrol or for other reasons. It actually takes 9 hours to do this drive and I always have to re-fuel somewhere when I take the trip. But after these questions were raised Jacinda stepped in and the right corrective measures were taken.

Jacinda Ardern was already riding high in the opinion polls before the Covid crisis, but this was based on personal popularity. Her Labour Party was not the most preferred party, it had been the conservative National Party, which had lost the last election even though it had the higher party list vote than the Labour Party. But because of the pandemic crisis, and the visibility of the Prime Minister, the Labour Party’s polling has been surging past that of National. It’s leader had never really registered as a preferred Prime Minister, so he has been replaced without having fought an election, with another right wing man from the provinces taking over. The only question is whether Jacinda’s personal popularity will translate into a majority in the party vote. The next election has been called for September, and it seems unlikely that National can form a government.

But New Zealand has a proportional representation system, and no single party has ever got a clear parliamentary majority since the change in the electoral system was made in 1996. The point here is that, even if one party did achieve this milestone, they would actually choose to include other parties, either as coalition partners, or through having a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement. This has been the preferred arrangement for the National Party, which always seems to think that it wins by having more seats than Labour. It looks like they will have the biggest reduction in the party vote since 2002, when Helen Clark won a second term very easily. But Clark sought out a coalition partner to her right, and shunned the Green Party, which has always been to the left of Labour. At the moment that is the status quo, although the Green Party has a confidence and supply agreement, as well as having some minor ministerial portfolios.

Now the international media see Jacinda Ardern and Labour as a centre-left party, but this is only relative to the National Party, which is usually in government. The New Zealand Labour Party is not a socialist party, as the British Labour party has been, at least while Mr Corbyn was leader. In fact, the term ‘socialist’ is very seldom heard in Wellington. There may be some individuals who call themselves socialists in the Labour Party, but they are not MPs. This is because of a seismic shift in the late 1980s, when the fourth Labour Government implemented Thatcherite policies, including a very dodgy privatisation programme. The result was that the left of the party broke away as individuals, with some outsiders, to form New Labour (which later formed an alliance with the nascent Green party). The trade union movement did not support the break, but was decimated by legislation introduced after the National Party won a landslide election in 1990. And it was the National Party which changed the electoral system, after a referendum in 1993, for retaining First Past the Post, or creating a proportional system.

I recently read a comment on the Labour List website, in which someone named Ollie Middleton was singing the praises of Jacinda Ardern, and suggesting there were lessons to be learned by the UK Labour Party. There were some nice words here, but mostly some misinterpretation of events in New Zealand. Middleton suggested that Ardern had pursued a radical domestic policy agenda. This is not really true. She was not able to implement a capital gains tax measure, even at the height of her popularity; and even if she had a radical agenda, her coalition partner (called New Zealand First) has been putting the brakes on. Her one large policy promise involved a large house-building programme, based on heroic assumptions about what the building industry could do, and which has already failed and been largely curtailed. Back to the drawing board then.

In fact, the significance of the Ardern phenomena is not about policies at all, it is based on the ability to respond to crisis events, and rally the public to her side. Or just her popularity in opinion polls. This would be the lesson for the Labour Party in Britain when it chose a new leader. But instead, the Labour Party there chose a safe option, Sir Keir Starmer, a competent and solid performer in Parliament, when they could have gone for a woman from up North. It seems that their major concern is the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn in the 2019 election, judging by the Labour Together Election Review that has just been published. It essentially blames Corbyn for the loss and, implicity, his version of British socialism.

It is easy to be critical of this document from afar, but the analysis is deeply flawed. It also seems to assume that there is still a two party system, even when it acknowledges that the SNP control most of the Scottish seats. It claims that it is not impossible for Labour to win a parliamentary majority, but it looks incredibly unlikely under the First Past the Post system, which appears to be set in stone. While it is navel-gazing at Labour’s campaigning problems it ignores the seismic shift that seemed to occur in 2014-15, when the Scottish Nationalists almost swept all the other parties away. While the nationalists are in power in Edinburgh, Labour cannot expect to form a majority in UK elections again, with the ‘English Nationalism’ of the Tories still relevant to the white working class. Having a Labour Government in Wales is about the best it seems able to do.

The really extraordinary thing in this election review is how much Labour are in thrall to the Conservative Party, and not just because of the trauma of losing the ‘red wall’ seats in the north of England. The analysis is that there is a long term trend of Labour losing working class seats to the Tories, outside of the big cities, and university towns. This is portrayed as a kind of inexorable process, where there are even more seats that could be lost, and despite the incompetence of the current Conservative government. The really amazing thing is the idea that the good result under Corbyn’s leadship, in the 2017 general election, somehow ‘masked’ the underlying demographic trend. The goodish result in 2017 was only because the public didn’t really know a lot about Corbyn; or the view of the right faction within Labour was that voters who stayed with Labour did so in the expectation that Corbyn could not win anyway. This does not explain how Labour won so many Tory held seats in 2017. It also does not explain how Corbyn’s Labour managed to hold on to seats that were gained in 2019, some very narrowly, but others comfortably in the south of England. And if the Liberal Democrats had been able to win more seats off the Conservatives in their former strongholds in the south west the overall result would look rather different. But the Liberal Democrats gained over 1 million more votes without winning any more seats at all; and there are still half a million Labour voters in Scotland who are left unrepresented, apart from one seat in Edinburgh.

In any other country, without an archaic electoral system, winning an extra 1 million votes would have been a triumph. Not in dear old Blighty though, where 43% of the overall vote is good for a landslide win. If the British were to learn anything from its former colonies like New Zealand it would be about how to create a modern electoral system, and one which reflects representation of a multi-ethnic society. And if the British Labour Party were to learn anything from Jacinda Ardern and her Labour Party, it would have been to take a chance on a female leader, and to no longer expect to have to win an absolute parliamentary majority before getting into government again. And it is not just the different electoral system that makes this possible.

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The so-called Lockdown is not actually over in New Zealand

New Zealand has gained some more publicity after the Prime Minister announced that the so-called Lockdown was over, and the coronavirus Covid-19 has been ‘eliminated’. Contrary to this public relations, the lockdown actually continues, and it is doubtful whether ‘community transmission’ ever occurred here, in the way that it swept across other countries. When I said we had been lucky in the previous post this has continued, if the virus had not got into some rest homes the death toll would still be in single figures. The number of people in intensive care has always been in single figures; and while some care workers and a few nurses got he virus, it has only been fatal for elderly people with underlying conditions. Was this good luck, or good policy management. Time will tell. The lockdown was imposed in a panic measure because of what was happening overseas to other health systems, and because a viable testing practice was not in place.

On a personal level the lockdown continues. I’ve been based north of Wellington on the Kapiti Coast, trying to look after a difficult octogenerian, while my mother is alone in our family apartment in the city. In principle, at the new level 3 form of lockdown, I can only go back to Wellington if I can prove to a police checkpoint that I live there (this is more difficult than it seems), and it is a single journey; and my mother would have to come  back up north, and stay here until level 3 ends. So the only change is that the aging octogenerian can go to the shops when likes, and I could go back to work if I still had a job.

So the central part of the day is my bike ride to the Waikanae River, and a bench seat with this view, looking towards Waikanae. It’s been fine, and could be worse I suppose.


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The current pandemic and Survivors (1975)

It is difficult to write, or even think about, anything apart from the current pandemic, and the so-called novel Corona-virus. I haven’t got much to say, other than that we have been lucky so far in New Zealand. But I just wanted to mention the British TV programme made in 1975, Survivors, which was created by Terry Nation. I did write about the first four episodes not so long ago, but that was before life started to imitate art. So I have borrowed an image from the Archive TV Musings blog, of Lucy Fleming, who played Jenny in Survivors, and made it through all three series, from 1975 to 1977.


This is from the first episode, where Jenny has escaped London, and is wandering aimlessly somewhere near the Welsh borders. She has just encountered the character Tom Price, played by Talfryn Thomas, and wearing her iconic blue coat (I think it is anyway). Both characters are adjusting to the fact that the death toll from the plague outbreak has been huge, and so the social structure has completely gone. This includes all the preparations for post-apocalypse that are not mobile: in other words, there is no use hoarding toilet paper because you can’t carry it around. And if you do drive, there is only so much petrol left etc. Terry Nation coined the term ‘future hour’, but was not able to really explain it, even though he used it as the title for an episode late in the series. But it captures the idea that there is no actual plan for the future that can be made, in units of time, when there is complete uncertainty. Or complete certainty that all your existing habits or ways of life have to change. But we have not quite got there yet, this time.

In hindsight of course, one could go back to 1975, and say that environmental crises and pandemics were inevitable. It was only a matter of time, or, perhaps, living on borrowed time.

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What is Mike Moore’s legacy, really?

Mike Moore was briefly the Prime Minister of New Zealand in late 1990, just before the Labour Party’s richly deserved loss in a landslide. Apparently he saved the Labour Party from completed annihilation under the previous leader, Geoffrey Palmer, a former law professor, whose academic approach to everything did not have any electoral appeal. Moore was still Labour leader for the next general election in 1993, which the National Party nearly lost, after vigorously pursuing Thatcherite policies, including swingeing welfare cuts, and passing employment legislation that removed the role of trades union.

So now Mike Moore has died aged 71. The eulogies continue, as do the myths about his abilities and achievements. Although this may seem bad form to try to correct the historical record, someone has to. The current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has called him a “huge intellect”, but she is too young to remember the disastrous period in the late 1980s, and the effect of opening up completely to international finance. Moreover, the news media in New Zealand love to call Mike Moore a ‘working class hero’. This is more interesting, since the media almost never talk about class. True, Moore came from very humble beginnings, lost his father when young, grew up in poverty etc. But the result of the government policies that he voted for was mass unemployment in the 1980s. This severely weakened the trade union movement, which was permanently undermined in 1991 by the National Party, and is no longer capable of mobilising the working class.

full_moore1 This is a particularly appropriate photo of Mike Moore in the 1980s, seen here with the financier, H. Michael Fay, the principal of the merchant bank Fay Richwhite. Those that have read certain previous posts, or heard of the Winebox, will know exactly who Fay was. The photo of the sheep is a fantastic metaphor, both because Fay is obviously the wolf (in an expensive suit), and Moore was the one being led astray. For someone who was apparently a working class hero, Moore spent an awful lot of time fraternising with the rich, and perhaps famous, once he became the director-general of the World Trade Organisation. A working class warrior would have been more wary of rich white men.

But rather than name-calling I want to highlight a few key points about H. Michael Fay, as an example of how the Auckland-based money men compromised the Labour Party and the process of government in New Zealand. Fay, in particular, knew the value of good publicity. This saw Fay Richwhite sponsor all sorts of events, from ballet to the emergent sport of triathlon. But Fay is mostly associated with the New Zealand challenges for the Americas Cup, the rich men’s yacht race, and for succeeding with the New Zealand team. This followed Australia’s successful challenge in 1983, which was bankrolled by Perth businessman Alan Bond. Sadly, Bond’s dodgy business dealings, including in tax havens, led to him going to prison. Whereas, the New Zealand money men, such as Fay, donated money to the Labour Party and got knighthoods. Although you could argue that Fay was more deserving of his than Ron Brierley, for example.

Less well known is Fay’s role in quangos like the Market Development Board, and his chairing role, which is no doubt where he worked closely with Mike Moore. As I noted in my book, Tax Haven New Zealand Part 1, one of the reports that Fay put out argued for the removal of non-resident withholding tax for foreign investors. This was initially rebuffed by officials because it was too obvious as a creation of a tax haven. As we now know, there was a change in the trust law in 1988, approved by the Labour finance minister, R.O. Douglas, that did create a tax haven. But the officials continued to debate the role of the removing the non-resident withholding tax during the second term of the Labour Government. Besides the advocacy of domestic players like Fay, the American bank Citicorp also wanted to get in on the action, and their proposal was actually supported by Mike Moore in 1990. So you have to question whether Moore was too easily led by associations with financiers, and supported proposals which were too good to be true.

Of course, a bigger problem by 1990 was that the Bank of New Zealand was on the verge of collapse, after disastrous lending practices in Australia during the 1990s. This had followed the collapse of DFC NZ in 1989, the former Development Finance Corporation, which had been ‘privatised’ the year before, but was actually owned by the State department for government employee pension savings, known as the National Provident Fund. To cut a long story short, the obvious strategy of the Auckland financiers was to get control of the government institutions that had a financial presence, whether through its savings or foreign exchange deals. The NPF chairman was Paul Collins, the chief executive of Brierley Investments, and Ron Brierley himself had been the chair of the BNZ up until the time of the privatisation phase in the late 1980s. After a brief reprieve H. Michael Fay became the chairman, despite the fact that his own firm owed the BNZ hundreds of millions, and having the bank involved in all of his firm’s tax evasion deals. BNZ Papers I have seen show that Fay Richwhite was actually insolvent through this time.

But what happened in late 1990, after the general election, was that the BNZ had to be bailed out. In actual fact this was a bail out of Fay Richwhite, and a cover up of the BNZ’s financial position, which even Treasury and Reserve Bank officials could not follow. The new management for the BNZ had already sacked most of the managers in the Australian branch, and dismantled its investment banking operation there. The National Party leader, Jim Bolger, continued to claim that there was no evidence of fraud in the BNZ. But he did use the enormous sum that had to be used to save the BNZ in 1991, and to maintain confidence in the financial system, to justify the savage cuts in welfare benefits and parts of the public service. These cuts were never restored by subsequent Labour Governments, especially those led by Helen Clark. But the Labour Party continued to observe its 1980s commitment to open borders, and free trade, which is Mike Moore’s legacy, as well as turning a blind eye to tax evasion and money laundering.

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The Environmental Cataclysm in Australasia

This is the first post of the year, and probably the last year of the blog. Hard not to be totally disheartened, firstly by events in the Northern Hemisphere, but mostly by the complete and utter ecological disaster in Australia. While it seemed that the fires in the Amazon region were bad, and the Brazilian reaction appalling, this is eclipsed down under.

I put Australasia in the title because the fires on mainland Australia are affecting the whole region. Certainly the smoke and haze has drifted across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. The remains of the Australian forests have landed on the South Island glaciers, and added to our own loss of alpine environment. And only the strong winds in the North Island prevent the smoke affecting the inhabitants here, at least the humans.

The Australian cataclysm is primarily that of the livestock and wildlife that have died in millions. Firefighters are trying to protect humans and their properties, but can’t save the animals, fauna and flora. The drought made it hard for farm animals anyway, but they were still being fed. The climate emergency that white Australia mostly ignores was already threatening wildlife and its habitat, but now it is being wiped out cruelly. Everybody knows about indigenous Australian species, especially the marsupials, kangaroos and wallabies, that can at least hop away to safety sometimes. The koala bears and wombats attract sympathy and are sometimes saved by humans, but what of all the other species.

The Australian Liberal Party was re-elected on an anti-environmental policy, and weren’t they proud of it. In the key areas of Queensland and Tasmania, where they would react to strong Green lobbying, the coal communities and loggers ensured that the Labor party lost the key seats that would have made the difference. The anti climate change brigade are still in full denial mode, and are currently blaming the ‘greenies’ for the extent of the fires, if not the cause. Inland Australia swelters in the heat of over 40 degrees celsius, and even the coastal holiday resorts are in peril, but the climate change deniers in the Liberal and National Parties claim it is the other side that are the ideologues. These gang of fools and right wing zealots still have a propaganda arm at Sky News Australia to dissemble.

Life in Australia carries on as normal. There are international cricket games to play, and an international tennis tournament to go ahead in Melbourne. The cricket tests were against New Zealand this year, the first time since the 1980s that our test team has toured in the holiday period, and played the Boxing Day test at the MCG instead of England. Our guys played poorly overall, and were affected by illness during the third test in Sydney. The Australians were as aggressive as ever, and continued to ‘sledge’ on-field, which is form of invective and swearing to intimidate the opponents, and trying to injure them. Not cricket at all, as played in other areas of the world, but the Australians always have to win.

In a previous post I criticised some of the reactionary policies of the Australian government, concerning refugees, and the deportation of petty criminals to New Zealand. All of these things have cost us, as does the upcoming trial of the Australian terrorist who killed 51 people in Christchurch last March. But since then a number of tourists have died in the White Island eruption, including Australians. Their politicians could have criticised the decision to allow tourist to go onto an active volcano, and right into the crater, when it seemed inherently unsafe. But any such criticism was moderated and efforts to assist the victims was the focus. So maybe there is still an underlying ANZAC spirit. In any case it is in our interests to send firefighters to Australia now, since the impact of the fires there are so widespread, but the environmental crisis is too far gone to change, even if the climate change deniers did not hold power in Australia.

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