Friday, February 24, 2023

A few more thoughts on Luxon, Pugh and the media - oh, and press secretaries too

The irony of the Maureen Pugh furore is that it has caused far more damage to Christopher Luxon than to Pugh.

Luxon has come out of it looking like a control freak, intolerant of any deviation from the party line.

This should surprise no one. He comes from a corporate background, and the corporate world values conformity above almost everything else. Original thinkers are seen as problematical and even threatening. Conventional men who play golf and wear suits are naturally most comfortable in the company of other conventional men who play golf and wear suits.

John Key came from a corporate background too, but of a different type: one that placed a high value on individual risk-taking. One difference between Key and Luxon is that Key, for all his faults, seemed to have more trust in his own judgment.

But that’s not the only reason Luxon has come out of this affair looking bad. Many New Zealanders are likely to have taken a dim view of the way he threw Pugh under the bus.

Loyalty is a two-way street; party leaders are entitled to it, but so are their MPs – even lowly backbenchers. To publicly demean Pugh by ordering her to read some books on climate change – in other words, to go and stand in the naughty corner – was a bad look. It seemed petty and vindictive.

The result: Pugh finished the week having won public respect for having the honesty to say what she thought, even though she was then bullied into a humiliating recantation. People would have realised her backdown was insincere, but would have excused her because it was forced on her by her leader.

There was a simple way to avoid all this. When confronted by scalp-hunting political journalists about Pugh’s supposed climate-change heresy, Luxon could have casually waved it away. “Well, that’s Maureen,” he might have said. “She has her own way of looking at things. National has room for non-conformists.”

But he didn’t. He responded exactly as the media hoped and gave them the “Gotcha!” moment they wanted.

I think the underlying problem here is that Luxon is scared of the media and allows himself to be intimidated. Political journalists play him like a fiddle and end up effectively dictating the political agenda. This is no basis for a healthy democracy.

Luxon seems to lack the guts or confidence to stand up for principled conservative positions, fearing that the left-leaning media will punish him. The same is happening in Australia, where the once-formidable Liberal Party has been cowed into a state of paralysis by media that are even more aggressively leftist.

It wasn’t always like this. In the 1970s, the boot was on the other foot: New Zealand political journalists were scared of politicians – or to be more precise, one politician in particular, Robert Muldoon. That wasn’t good for democracy either. There's an honourable middle ground between these extremes.

Control-freak press secretaries appear to be part of the problem too. They wield far too much power. It emerged on RNZ this morning that when word of Pugh’s verbal indiscretion got around, Opposition press secretaries went into panic mode, scurrying around to ensure that all the other National MPs were “on message”.  

Pardon me, but who’s in charge here? We don’t elect press secretaries to run the country. They are the modern equivalent of the palace courtier, wielding undue influence and orchestrating events out of the public eye. Political communications, aka the spin doctor industry, is a racket that’s out of control; a gravy train that needs to be derailed.



Odysseus said...

Another excellent column Karl, with much food for thought.

Leaders don't throw their own people publicly under buses. That did it for me. Luxon's first instinct was to cover his own butt by humiliating one of his team who had expressed her personal view, one shared by many people, on climate change which should be a matter of science but seems more like a religion. It's not as if Pugh however had threatened to cross the floor on a key policy plank. In my opinion Luxon has proven himself unfit for the role of PM and National should be scrambling right now to replace him because he will lose them the election.

pdm said...

My understanding is that Maureen Pugh said this:
`West Coast MP Maureen Pugh says she is yet to see a response by Minister James Shaw to a local council request for actual evidence before impacting rate-payers on man-made climate change.'

If that is true then James Shaw is actually the villain because he has not done his job and replied to the Council that directly asked him a question - presumably in writing, some time ago and that is the point Pugh was making.

Luxon and his National leadership team let themselves down because they do not check the facts before stomping on Pugh. Personally I think Luxon is coming across as more and more `woke' and by being so is letting himself, National and New Zealanders down.

As for the media - you have pretty much summed them up in recent posts Karl. Sometimes I wonder how thick they all are because surely $55million only buys so much loyalty and it is not unreasonable to expect some sort of good judgment from them.

Apparently not in this case though.

Chris Nisbet said...

Luxon didn't do himself any favours by declaring there was 'no doubt' Gabrielle was a result of 'Climate Change' either. Metservice managed to give what seemed to be a reasonable description of how it came about without mentioning 'Climate Change' even once. There's less doubt in my mind that man-made forestry slash was more impactful than there is that Gabrielle was the result of CO2 emissions.
The 'fully on board with Net Zero' thing is just a little bit terrifying to me as well. You don't have to look far to find explanations of the impossibility of digging up everything needed to go net zero in the short amount of time allowed, let alone how much impact it'd have on the climate even if we achieved that feat.

Eamon Sloan said...

Years ago the National Party was lauded for not allowing issues to get out of hand and for dealing with those issues behind closed doors. Also for being adept at managing the entire media machine. Now the “managers” are being managed by the media machine. The press secretaries, cogs in the same machine, are made up partly of ex-journalists and ex-marketing types.

The Wikipedia page paints for me a confusing picture of Maureen Pugh. She was an “almost” MP (list) a couple of times. Her political background was originally with the Westland District Council. My guess is that National maybe wants rid of her. For reasons I suppose best known to the secretive National Party operatives. But, what better way to dispose of a list MP than through a public flogging and humiliation then giving that MP a ranking way down the list. Somehow I hope I am wrong.

Postscript: Pardon me for thinking out loud, is Luxon a closet misogynist?

Steve said...

Great article Karl.

I suspect the insufferable Rob Muldoon is turning in his grave watching TeReo Luxon turning the National Party into a bunch of trembling PC wokesters.

No doubt he will be thinking: “If Luxon defected to Labour then he’d be lifting the IQ of both parties……”

Spiro Zavos said...

While it is true that most political reporters/commentators in the 1970s when Robert Muldoon was in his heyday were as terrified of him as mice being stalked by a cat, there were a number of reporters/commentators who were not intimidated.

Off the top of my head I can name Bill Reeves, Warwick Roger, Tom Scott, Brian Edwards, Geoff Walker, Chris Wheeler publisher of COCK

I would put myself in this category. My biography of Muldoon, 'The Real Muldoon,' reduced him to such a rage that he conducted the equivalent of a jihad against me and my publishers for more than a month in his Rob's Mob column in The Truth.

My belief is that the reporters/commentators were far tougher on politicians of all stripes in the 1970s than the biased, uninformed 'useful idiots' who pose as reporters/commentators in the New Zealand media these days.

I agree with you about Luxon.

To paraphrase Dryden, Luxon seems to be willing to wound his own party members but unwilling to strike against one of the worst governments New Zealanders have had to endure.

As the cliche goes, he could be snatching defeat out of the jaws of a certain victory.

Karl du Fresne said...

Thanks Spiro. To your list I would add the name of Simon Walker. TV interviewers were among the first to stand up to Muldoon. By the late 70s/early 80s he was viewed with slightly less trepidation. Richard Long and Rick Neville of the Dominion refused to be intimidated by him and were backed to the hilt by their editor, Geoff Baylis, who came from Britain and I think was astonished to find that NZ journalists were frightened of politicians rather than the other way around.

Trev1 said...

When, one day, we are free again I think it would be appropriate for the "journalists " who took the government's bribe during a difficult time in our history and who in particular smeared their fellow Kiwis at the behest of the authorities, to be ostracized as the collaborators they are.

David Lupton said...

Yes let's all pile on Luxon and complete the job for the MSM. Thats just what they want. Luxon was brought in to fix a National caucus that was fragmented and pulling in all different directions. He has by and large succeeded. If he had, as you suggest, said that National is a broad church with a range of views, he would have opened the way for headlines about how we can't trust National, we don't know what they stand for. Especially on climate change where a concerted effort by MSM, Google and others to characterize the scientific method as denial, means even quite intelligent people seem to have bought into the narrative, it's important to get elected first. Then you can afford to have a broad church. Yes he mishandled it. No I am not going to change my vote as a consequence.

Simon Arnold said...

I'd just add a number of cartoonists to those who took something of a delight in Rob Muldoon, including Bob Brockie who added to Cock's contribution and that of Salient in my time involved, although more in the Holyoake/Kirk eras.

Good political cartooning seems to be a lost art in the MSM, or perhaps our national sense of humour has moved on, leaving me as an anachronistic embarrassment to those who follow.

pdm said...

Simon Arnold - Garrick Tremain seems to stand alone as a cartoonist these days.

Eamon Sloan - if things re Maureen Pugh in National are as you suggest why was she promoted to Junior Whip by Luxon?

Doug Longmire said...

Excellent article Karl. you have summed it up very clearly.
Odysseus and pdm's comments are right on the mark.

Luxon is the loser here, in a big way. Lost my vote.

Maureen Pugh did NOT "deny" climate change - she simply did what any intelligent person would do, which is to require credible proof or evidence of human caused climate change. Considering the multiple occasions that the IPCC's predictions have been wrong, this is a reasonable point of view.

And P.S. Mr Luxon - Maureen is not a "climate denier" That term is an insult.

Chuck Bird said...

I was an active member of the National Party for about 5 years. I was not a big donor but spent 2 or 3 thousand travelling to AGM.

I recently resigned from National and am now supporting Act mainly because of National's Green climate policy that could put some farmers out of business and have them sell their farms to foreign forestry.

National for many decades has been the party that supported farmers. The first sign of a real change was an email reply I got from Todd Muller. See below.

Hi Chuck

Personally, I do think the world is in a climate emergency. The challenge as it always has been is to get global action as opposed to global speeches and talk fests.

I am in strong agreement with Scott that we have to get NZ action in a sensible place - function of ETS price, available technology, and sensible conversations with larger emitting sectors to build a plan - cutting cows and stopping NZ steel etc.

Kind regards

At the time I did not realize that Luxon supported that view.

I recently found Luxon quoted in a Newsroom article.

Anonymous said...

I was married to someone who knew Maureen Pugh when they were young and they went to St Mary's College in Greymouth together.

I remember her describing Maureen as bright and not to be under-estimated. It seems as if a few people - including Soimon Bridges, Nicola Willis, Christopher Luxon, various hacks and hackettes (especially thr hackettes) - are doing so.

Maureen Pugh is a West Coaster. I was married to one, have various other relatives on the Coast, and it is fair to say they often think differently from the rest of us. Even today.

Not many Kiwis understand that.

She was mayor three times of a district council that, while narrow, is one of the longest in the country.She wouldn't have got there if she was a bunny.

Christopher Luxon and Nicola Willis could have, instead of humiliating her, made a passing joke along the lines of 'Maureen's a Coaster. They often have their own unique view of things.'

- Paul Corrigan

Eamon Sloan said...

For: PDM

My comments were purely speculative. About Maureen Pugh’s Junior Whip position:– I have re-read the Wiki page and note that she was appointed immediately following the 2020 election, that is before Luxon was appointed Opposition leader, late 2021. That doesn’t matter so much as Whips are voted in by caucus. Maybe Luxon voted for her. Who knows?

I take your point about Garrick Tremain. History memo: He was badly dealt to by the Otago Daily Times.

Doug Longmire said...

That email from Todd Muller is very revealing. It could have been written by James Shaw.
It illustrates the crazy attitude of some politicians. The attitude that we, in New Zealand, can actually make a difference.
NZ's CO2 emissions are 0.17% of total global (human) emissions. i.e. close to zero.

Get real Todd !!

Phil said...

I agree, Damien Grant in his article this morning said Chris Luxon walked into a media trap. Luxon isn't perfect but the alternative this year will be a hard left coalition and I anticipate will be the most extreme NZ Government in my lifetime. The coalition negotiations will feature massive tax rises, implementing He Puapua and what ever else is on the agenda.

Max Ritchie said...

Vote for ACT and they’ll hold their noses and support National into Government. Luxon’s treatment of Pugh shows that he’s no politician. Pugh isn’t a denier”, she’s a skeptic. So should we all be. Muller should not be an MP and not in National, he’s a useless liability. One of the reasons I have gone right off National.

Martin Hanson said...

Had I been Luxon, I would have have said the following:
"While most National MPs accept that climate change is serious and anthropogenic, Ms Pugh has a right to her own view. New Zealand is not North Korea; we allow and indeed value diversity of views. The group-think that characterises Left-wing governments is not that of the National party"

Anonymous said...

I agree. I thought Luxon was just inexperienced but he’s no leader.

Anonymous said...

It is clear by watching Luxon that the media is totally in charge. They set the narrative, and he dances to their tunes. It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest both National and the media are having their strings pulled by someone else. The WEF is the most likely candidate. As some of the comments say, he could have easily side-stepped this media trap, but clearly they are all on board with these agendas. I've just been asked (again) to renew my National party membership. Two chances: Zero and None. We need ACT and DemocracyNZ to pull Labour-Lite's rudder to the right.

Mobfiz said...

What would it take for Luxon and Seymour to stand together at a press conference and galvanise NZ? Seymour has demonstrated political nous, leadership and principle. Luxon has had years to pinpoint government incompetence and hypocrisy. How long before his caucus has had enough of him?

Anonymous said...

Niwa is the gvt's experts on climate change and there is lots of information on their website Pugh and West Coast Council cld use. No excuse.

Andy Espersen said...

I copy and paste an excerpt from this week's Muriel Newman newsletter's guest commentator, Anthony Willy (referring to rank and file National Party members):

"The word on the street is unanimous, they will vote for their National member but their Party vote will go elsewhere probably to ACT. It is unimaginably stupid for National to find itself in this position over such a fundamental matter as freedom of thought".

ACT may eventuate with as many MPs as National - or more! Watch this space!