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Old 08-19-2014, 06:27 AM   #1
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2014 New Zealand general election thread

New Zealand politics has got very interesting all of a sudden and I'm making this thread in the vain hope somebody else on Interference might want to talk about the upcoming election on 20 September and the scandals surrounding it.

Here's a brief rundown for those of you unfamiliar with Kiwi politics. First the system, then the scandal.

The system and major players

The current Prime Minister, John Key, has been in power for two terms, dating back to 2008. He leads the National Party, the main centre-right party, and is currently polling pretty well. His main opposition is the centre-left Labour Party led by David Cunliffe, who lack a strong or popular leader and have been polling poorly despite a series of controversies involving the government. Under the New Zealand electoral system of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), minor parties are quite significant and ever since the first MMP election in 1996 every government has been a coalition of some description (suck that, Australia and your hysteria about minority governments; the sky hasn't fallen yet). The largest minor party are the Greens, but also currently in parliament are the indigenous-rights Maori Party and its left-wing offshoot the Mana Movement, the right-wing classical liberal ACT Party, the populist/nationalist New Zealand First, and the centrist United Future.

At this election, the Mana Movement has signed a temporary deal with the new Internet Party founded by Kim Dotcom - yes, that Kim Dotcon, the guy behind Megaupload. They will run a joint Internet Mana ticket, with a review of their arrangement to be made a month after the election. Also seeking entry to parliament is the far-right Conservative Party, led by a chap called Colin Craig whose main hobby is threatening litigation. There are a bunch of other microparties in contention; none of them stand a chance this time around, but the satirical Citizen Party should give us some laughs. I for one am fully supportive of their policy to declare national independence from the city of Hamilton.

The Dirty Politics scandal

Last Wednesday, investigative journalist Nicky Hager launched a book in Wellington amidst some secrecy. Everybody thought that he was writing a book about the Five Eyes surveillance network. Boy did they get a surprise. Hager's a well-respected journo whose books have caused trouble for both National and Labour in the past - though he is on the political left. This new book, Dirty Politics, is based on emails and Facebook messages Hager received from an anonymous source between Cameron Slater and political staffers. Slater runs Whale Oil Beef Hooked, a rabid and tawdry right wing blog with considerable prominence in New Zealand (political blogging in general has a high profile in New Zealand and leading bloggers are public figures in their own right). Many of Slater's messages are with Jason Ede, long-serving press officer for the Prime Minister. The revelations are massive. Here is a selection:

- The National Party accessed (probably illegally) the Labour Party's computers during the 2011 election campaign, with information then supplied by Ede to Slater to publicly attack Labour without having the National Party's fingerprints on it.
- Slater was tipped off by Ede when information requested under the Official Information Act (a freedom of information law) was to be released to an opposition party or a media outlet. Slater then made his own requests, sometimes drafted by Ede, and was given the information first, so that it was published on Whale Oil with pro-National spin before any other outlet had it.
- Slater made an OIA request to the Security Intelligence Service for information on a briefing given to Phil Goff, then Labour leader, to contradict a claim made by Goff. Media outlets who made almost identical requests were rejected. Requests to the SIS are almost always rejected, or if approved take weeks to process. Slater's request was expedited in a matter of days and he was given foreknowledge of what the content would be. It appears this was done with the approval of the Prime Minister's office, if not the PM himself. As you can imagine, Goff is apoplectic. This really is a gross abuse and politicisation of the OIA.
- A leading source of Slater's infamous "tipline" of dirt on politicians - mainly regarding members of the opposition - is Justice Minister Judith Collins. When Minister of Police she discussed leaking info to Slater for publication on his blog, and appears to have moved a prisoner at Slater's request to a more isolated prison, leading to the prisoner attempting suicide.
- Slater also collaborates with National political strategist Simon Lusk to run smear campaigns, including in National pre-selection battles to ensure their mates and allies win pre-selection. It means the smears do not appear to have come from within the party.
- Slater and National political strategist Simon Lusk conspired to blackmail Rodney Hide to resign the leadership of the ACT Party by threatening to release "dodgy texts" between Hide and a young woman. Hide subsequently resigned. Hide denies the allegations, but the timeline fits perfectly. Whether or not Hide resigned because of blackmail, Slater and Lusk still conspired to blackmail him - which is illegal.

The basic thrust of the book is that while John Key presents a public image as an easygoing guy who is above the fray, the reality is the most concerted programme of dirty tricks in New Zealand in decades, using friendly high-profile bloggers such as Slater so that the National Party's fingerprints are not on the disclosures or taunts. The activity described ranges from odious to illegal. National right now are busy playing the man, not playing the ball, evidently in the hope the allegations will just go away (especially since Hager has extensive documentation so they're going to have trouble winning if they play the ball). A Twitter account - not run by Hager - is now releasing the emails Hager used as his source, plus some he did not. This whole affair could really tarnish Key's public image, especially as he vowed to represent a break with unsavoury behaviour by his predecessors that Hager exposed in an earlier book, The Hollow Men.

Aaaand Kim Dotcom says that he will hold a press conference in the week before the election to release new information about New Zealand's involvement in international espionage. This is going to be good. It's unlikely these disclosures will change the course of the election as Labour & Friends are so far behind in polling, but it should dash National's hopes of being the first MMP-era majority government and it's definitely turned a potentially dull election campaign into the most interesting since 2005.
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"And as for Bono, he needs a colostomy bag for his mouth."

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Old 08-19-2014, 06:46 AM   #2
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I'm fascinated by NZ politics even though my knowledge only goes as far as the two main parties and Hone Harawira, reading all about this is very intriguing to me and in general I'm very curious as to how similar or dissimilar the NZ political scene is to Australia's, and how NZers generally view Australian politics since I'd assume they'd have some coverage of it?
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Old 08-19-2014, 07:03 AM   #3
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Oh god, Hone Harawira. On paper I should be really sympathetic towards the Mana Movement, but Harawira's pretty much just a loose cannon who's only in it for Harawira. There isn't that much respect for Harawira outside of his electorate, where he has a strong personal following. He is widely viewed as a bit of a joke. Not sure if there is a good Aussie comparison - we don't do self-interested left-wing controversialists. (Though Kim Dotcom has pretty much just walked into the role of a Kiwi Clive Palmer.)

Similarities or differences between Aussie and Kiwi political scenes? Well Maori are a prominent and normal part of the political scene - I don't know if we will ever see Aboriginals occupy such a position in our lifetimes, which is depressing. New Zealand hasn't had the alarming lurch to the right of Australia in recent decades, at least not in terms of social policy. Yes, New Zealand leapt on the neoliberal economic bandwagon in the eighties just like Australia did, so it's drifted right economically, but socially it hasn't had such a strong drift. We don't have toxic xenophobic debates about asylum seekers (yet), terrorism isn't such a big deal, gay marriage is legal, we're proud to be "clean and green", etc., etc. Our minor right wing parties have tended to be more classic liberal small government types, like the ACT Party who are pretty consistent in advocating social liberal policies and free market philosophies. Colin Craig is hoping to change that with his Conservative Party but past experience indicates there just aren't that many people in New Zealand who are interested. United Future, which is now centrist, is derived from mergers of a series of parties including some right-wing Christian ones that just couldn't meet the threshold to enter parliament. It's hard to imagine the likes of Cory Bernardi, Kevin Andrews, and their mates on the Liberal religious right and in Family First getting far in New Zealand.

Aussie politics gets a fair run in New Zealand, and I think many Kiwis look on Aussie politics with a mixture of bemusement and horror. Especially ever since Tone got in. Even National voters are shocked. My father, traditionally a National voter, was over last week and he just can't believe the insanity of the current Aussie government. Joe Hockey is a punchline. To a point the view of Australian politics is "look at our dumb embarrassing cousin, isn't it funny from a distance?" I think it's fair to say that in some regards the Kiwi National Party is more to the left than the Aussie Liberal Party.
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Ian McCulloch the U2 fan:
"Who buys U2 records anyway? It's just music for plumbers and bricklayers. Bono, what a slob. You'd think with all that climbing about he does, he'd look real fit and that. But he's real fat, y'know. Reminds me of a soddin' mountain goat."
"And as for Bono, he needs a colostomy bag for his mouth."

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Old 08-19-2014, 07:31 AM   #4
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I'm not surprised by that, and good to have confirmation that I'm not that off the mark when I believe Aus politics has found its place as far to the right as it has. John Key always came across as a duller, more Bill Shorten like counterpart to Tone from the limited exposure I've had to him, we really hear very little about NZ politics here, don't we?

Briefly reading on Harawira, I feel like I'd easily sympathise with him if it weren't for some of his gaffes that are listed, this is based on his Wiki page. Maybe my fascination with him is because of the fact there's no Australian equivalent of him.
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Old 08-19-2014, 07:58 AM   #5
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I'm not surprised by that, and good to have confirmation that I'm not that off the mark when I believe Aus politics has found its place as far to the right as it has. John Key always came across as a duller, more Bill Shorten like counterpart to Tone from the limited exposure I've had to him, we really hear very little about NZ politics here, don't we?
I'm genuinely surprised I've seen nothing about the Dirty Politics scandal in the Aussie media. I suppose it requires a basic knowledge of some points of Kiwi politics, but really I'd have thought "one party hacked the other! they blackmailed a party leader into quitting! gross abuse of freedom of information requests!" would get a run at least on the Guardian.

The funny thing about John Key is that although on the surface he appears to be this bland, uncharismatic individual (as your comparison suggests), in New Zealand he has managed to cultivate an image of himself as a good, decent bloke who's pretty easygoing, sincere, and looking out for the country. I don't understand how he does it. Apparently in person he is actually quite engaging and very good at talking at length on a wide range of topics without notes - which really helped him get an edge on some of his opponents who relied on scripted remarks and got lost when they had to do without them.

Hager's revelations might put a bit of a dent in that decent, sincere public persona...

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Briefly reading on Harawira, I feel like I'd easily sympathise with him if it weren't for some of his gaffes that are listed, this is based on his Wiki page. Maybe my fascination with him is because of the fact there's no Australian equivalent of him.
Yep. He's an interesting man, no doubt there. In one way he's like Clive - you can go along with him for a while, thinking he's fairly sane or turned a corner, and then out of nowhere something ridiculous happens and you facepalm.

Go check out Winston Peters. You'll dislike his politics, but oh my god if you want old school populism aimed at old people, Winnie has it all wrapped up. It's not the boisterous, shit-tonnes-of-money populism of Clive Palmer or Kim Dotcom. The man's a pro, and he's managed to find himself kingmaker multiple times since MMP was introduced. He's supported both Labour and National; basically whoever gives him what he wants. What's most bizarre is seeing this half-Maori man slag off campaigns for Maori rights and criticise "politically correct" people who want to depict Maori as "brown-skinned angels". I think he takes it as a point of pride that at some point in the last two decades he has been both loved and loathed by literally every other party in New Zealand. I think he's a national embarrassment and his supporters will die soon, but I also have a grudging partial respect for how he has managed to survive for so long and somehow turn it all to his advantage.
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"Mediocrity is never so dangerous as when it is dressed up as sincerity." - Søren Kierkegaard

Ian McCulloch the U2 fan:
"Who buys U2 records anyway? It's just music for plumbers and bricklayers. Bono, what a slob. You'd think with all that climbing about he does, he'd look real fit and that. But he's real fat, y'know. Reminds me of a soddin' mountain goat."
"And as for Bono, he needs a colostomy bag for his mouth."

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Old 08-19-2014, 09:25 AM   #6
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Looked Peters up, my head hurts. Populism in general makes my head hurt, it's just way too easy to see through and I'm already sick of it.

At least there's no shortage of characters, I guess.
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Old 08-19-2014, 11:03 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Axver View Post
- The National Party accessed (probably illegally) the Labour Party's computers during the 2011 election campaign, with information then supplied by Ede to Slater to publicly attack Labour without having the National Party's fingerprints on it.
- Slater was tipped off by Ede when information requested under the Official Information Act (a freedom of information law) was to be released to an opposition party or a media outlet. Slater then made his own requests, sometimes drafted by Ede, and was given the information first, so that it was published on Whale Oil with pro-National spin before any other outlet had it.
- Slater made an OIA request to the Security Intelligence Service for information on a briefing given to Phil Goff, then Labour leader, to contradict a claim made by Goff. Media outlets who made almost identical requests were rejected. Requests to the SIS are almost always rejected, or if approved take weeks to process. Slater's request was expedited in a matter of days and he was given foreknowledge of what the content would be. It appears this was done with the approval of the Prime Minister's office, if not the PM himself. As you can imagine, Goff is apoplectic. This really is a gross abuse and politicisation of the OIA.
- A leading source of Slater's infamous "tipline" of dirt on politicians - mainly regarding members of the opposition - is Justice Minister Judith Collins. When Minister of Police she discussed leaking info to Slater for publication on his blog, and appears to have moved a prisoner at Slater's request to a more isolated prison, leading to the prisoner attempting suicide.
- Slater also collaborates with National political strategist Simon Lusk to run smear campaigns, including in National pre-selection battles to ensure their mates and allies win pre-selection. It means the smears do not appear to have come from within the party.
- Slater and National political strategist Simon Lusk conspired to blackmail Rodney Hide to resign the leadership of the ACT Party by threatening to release "dodgy texts" between Hide and a young woman. Hide subsequently resigned. Hide denies the allegations, but the timeline fits perfectly. Whether or not Hide resigned because of blackmail, Slater and Lusk still conspired to blackmail him - which is illegal.


Wow. I will admit that, like most Americans, I know next to nothing about politics in Aus/NZ, but holy shit, that sounds like the kind of thing that could ruin a party for decades.
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Old 08-19-2014, 08:45 PM   #8
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At least there's no shortage of characters, I guess.
The thing that annoys me a bit about New Zealand politics right now is that it seems most of the characters (both good and bad) are minor party members and that we are stuck with an uninspiring battle between Key and Cunliffe - or whatever dull successors they have - for the Prime Ministership. Labour's been trying and failing to find a charismatic replacement for Helen Clark for six years. We've fallen a long way from the days of David Lange and Norman Kirk, truly exceptional politicians with enough charisma for a whole party.

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Wow. I will admit that, like most Americans, I know next to nothing about politics in Aus/NZ, but holy shit, that sounds like the kind of thing that could ruin a party for decades.
You'd expect that to be the result, wouldn't you? If this happened in Australia, it would bring down any state or federal government, and I imagine similar is true for the US. The astonishing thing is that it probably won't be the outcome in New Zealand. Much of the speculation in the blogosphere is that it may not even affect the election result that much - because there is a perception that the scandal is too "beltway" for regular voters whose main take from the whole affair is that "politicians are grubs; more at ten", and that National voters themselves are unlikely to read the book and be swayed. Then again, the first poll to come out since the scandal broke indicates a drop for the government and a gain for the opposition, so we'll see.

But as an illustration of how much ground there is to make up, in polls released immediately before the scandal, National were polling around 47-54%, Labour around 26-30%, and the Greens (who will only work with Labour) at 12%.
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Ian McCulloch the U2 fan:
"Who buys U2 records anyway? It's just music for plumbers and bricklayers. Bono, what a slob. You'd think with all that climbing about he does, he'd look real fit and that. But he's real fat, y'know. Reminds me of a soddin' mountain goat."
"And as for Bono, he needs a colostomy bag for his mouth."

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Old 08-23-2014, 03:27 AM   #9
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I'm sorry, I just now read this thread, though I had some dim awareness of the scandal surrounding the National government.

This to me seems really no different in principle to Watergate (the first time in years that a 'gate' suffix would actually fit, though this is in fact worse).

I'm not that up on NZ politics in general but didn't Helen Clarke used to cut a pretty dominant figure for a very long time? Why are Labour so badly adrift electorally?

In some backhanded fairness to our own country, I would imagine that the Maori are an established feature of the political landscape because historically, for various reasons, they were never annihilated. Not sufficiently to be ignorable. Australian political parties can ignore aborigines the same way US national politicians can ignore Native Americans - which is to say, almost entirely.
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Old 08-23-2014, 05:54 AM   #10
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15% of NZ population are Maori compared to about 2-3% Aboriginal/TSI people of Australia's population?
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Old 08-23-2014, 07:59 PM   #11
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Watching Key this week trying to maintain his innocence and lack of knowledge about the mishandling of freedom of information requests as more and more incriminating information comes out has been hilarious. The real hope is that over the remaining few weeks, this scandal continues to linger like a bad smell and seriously affects the image of Key as a sincere and honest bloke.

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This to me seems really no different in principle to Watergate (the first time in years that a 'gate' suffix would actually fit, though this is in fact worse).

I'm not that up on NZ politics in general but didn't Helen Clarke used to cut a pretty dominant figure for a very long time? Why are Labour so badly adrift electorally?
Yeah for once the Watergate comparisons don't make me cringe. The stunning and confusing thing over a week and a half after this broke is that the Nationals still have a massive lead in the polls (they've taken a dent, but not a big one) and should win the election easily. The MMP system might make forming a stable government a bit interesting though. The scandal has dominated political news in New Zealand and has completely derailed the Nats' planned narrative, but it seems to be tarnishing all of politics rather than the guilty party. Frankly, if New Zealanders think this is how all politics is, and how it should be, then I guess we deserve the scumbags we get.

Helen Clark ruled from 1999 to 2008 and for most of the time cut a popular and powerful image (including riding out a different Hager-induced scandal in 2002). But it seems they didn't have anybody in reserve. Phil Goff probably could have achieved more than he did, but the odious and illegal tricks of the Nats in 2011 brought him down; his replacement David Shearer couldn't improve things; and now David Cunliffe is going around the country stirring up apathy, as former PM Lange would've said. It doesn't help that Key is immensely popular personally, and this campaign was pretty much set up presidential-style (just look at the prominent branding of "Team Key"!). Looking in from outside - though I've been back a lot in recent years - I just cannot fathom Key's popularity. He is beyond bland to me, the kind of guy who'd be a competent senior minister but shouldn't set the world on fire. He's also presided over some deeply unpopular policies, and Labour should've destroyed him. Labour's policies are more aligned to what it seems the country wants, but they cannot sell it while Key wanders around with his faint smile and handshakes and holds onto all the votes.

In a way, it's like imagining a dull Liberal Party led by Peter Costello competing against... well, the current ALP.

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In some backhanded fairness to our own country, I would imagine that the Maori are an established feature of the political landscape because historically, for various reasons, they were never annihilated. Not sufficiently to be ignorable. Australian political parties can ignore aborigines the same way US national politicians can ignore Native Americans - which is to say, almost entirely.
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15% of NZ population are Maori compared to about 2-3% Aboriginal/TSI people of Australia's population?
This is very true. The history here is really important - Aboriginals were viewed as occupying the lowest rung of human existence and were easily conquered by disease, death, and discrimination, while Maori were seen as close to "civilised" and were able to fight a form of guerrilla warfare that the British respected (if detested!). It also helped that Maori had decades of pre-colonial contact to acquire muskets from traders only too eager to sell them while Aboriginals in many parts of Australia did not experience the same militarisation. So Maori have always been powerful in New Zealand politics - the Maori seats were established way back in 1867, breathtaking from an Australian viewpoint - while Aboriginals have always been deeply marginalised.

Hell, part of the reason New Zealand declined to join the Australian federation in the 1890s is that we didn't want Australia being able to affect Maori policy. The memory of the warfare of the 1860s was still strong and there was a deep fear among some that Australia would pursue policies that would provoke a new round of fighting. At this time, parts of the central North Island were still under de facto Maori control.
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Ian McCulloch the U2 fan:
"Who buys U2 records anyway? It's just music for plumbers and bricklayers. Bono, what a slob. You'd think with all that climbing about he does, he'd look real fit and that. But he's real fat, y'know. Reminds me of a soddin' mountain goat."
"And as for Bono, he needs a colostomy bag for his mouth."

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Old 08-23-2014, 08:27 PM   #12
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It seems all too often the case that parties have noone (much) in reserve. Maybe a symptom of the hollowing out of the old branch structures where some of the brightest might once have come up.

You saw it here with Labor after Keating was gone. Beazley was an ok placeholder and might even have been an ok prime minister if the chips had fallen so, but after that it was downhill all the way. Though I actually rate Gillard a bit above average, while simultaneously detesting the sort of roll-up-your-sleeves set-the-alarm-for-5-am rhetoric that she or her people seemed to imagine resonated.
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Old 08-23-2014, 08:44 PM   #13
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I also wonder how much it has to do with the increasing presidentialisation of parliamentary politics. Any particularly bright, charismatic young spark is going to be seen as a serious threat to their leader, rather than part of a ministerial team. Obviously that sort of thing has always existed to some extent or another, but go back a few decades and you needed somebody charismatic in any important state/region to keep the voters onside - the leader couldn't travel there all the time, and TV's potential was not fully harnessed. Now it's much easier to build a cult of presidential-style personality for one individual over an entire country.
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Ian McCulloch the U2 fan:
"Who buys U2 records anyway? It's just music for plumbers and bricklayers. Bono, what a slob. You'd think with all that climbing about he does, he'd look real fit and that. But he's real fat, y'know. Reminds me of a soddin' mountain goat."
"And as for Bono, he needs a colostomy bag for his mouth."

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Old 08-23-2014, 09:08 PM   #14
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Yes, the cult of leader has probably got a bit to answer for. Well, exhibit A: Kevin Rudd. Exhibit B: John Howard (though he was clever enough to obscure the fact a little).
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Old 08-23-2014, 09:32 PM   #15
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If anything the Howard cult of personality has been more successful in terms of his legacy (despite losing his seat!) than it was while he was in charge. It's remarkable how potent "the Howard years" is now.
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Ian McCulloch the U2 fan:
"Who buys U2 records anyway? It's just music for plumbers and bricklayers. Bono, what a slob. You'd think with all that climbing about he does, he'd look real fit and that. But he's real fat, y'know. Reminds me of a soddin' mountain goat."
"And as for Bono, he needs a colostomy bag for his mouth."

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