April 8, 2010

Flying business class: like a youth hostel in the sky

The latest episode in Duncan Garner's exposing of Chris Carter's travel shows two like-minded men really made for each other. Both men have opted to appear to be doing their job, rather than really doing it.

For a little-bit-lazy political journalist, what an easy story. Politician flies business class to Europe! Something few experience, but many can understand, having glanced at the forward cabin as they board the plane. And the sums involved are comprehensible, thousands rather than millions of dollars. But lets not romanticise business class travel. Sure, it's nicer and more expensive than economy, but you can have a lot more indulgence on the ground. If long haul economy flying is like sleeping in a tent on a hill and being served reheated food, business class is like sleeping in a youth hostel and being served slightly better reheated food. It's nicer, but it's not that nice.

But most people don't travel business class so it's easy to foment indignation at a politician getting a slightly better deal than others. Even in business class you can't avoid the fact that changing time zones rapidly screws your body clock. Nothing you can do but wait to adjust. The only thing that business class gives you nowadays is the option to sleep flat on your back. Especially if you're a tall guy, like Chris Carter. And if you really have to perform straight off the plane, then business class is probably worth it. It's just a little hard to believe that an opposition spokesperson going on a 3 week trip to Europe has to perform straight off the plane. Fly economy, and add an extra day to the trip, and it would all be OK. Probably no nasty TV3 coverage.

So it's easy to write a story like this, the information is all out there in public, and you don't really have to understand anything. Politician travels better than the public. But no-one should think that flying business class to Europe is a bunch of jolly good fun. You could have much more fun at taxpayers expense by going to a nice restaurant in Wellington and claiming that off the taxpayer. But $200 here and $200 there isn't quite as obvious a story as $10,000 on airfares.

Both are lazy stories. The real scandals, the real waste of millions of dollars are hidden, not in corruption which is easy to understand, but in bad decisions about government policy (like this one for example). But you have to do some digging and thinking and investigation to find out where millions of dollars are being wasted.

In much the same way as Duncan Garner appears to be doing his job as a journalist by exposing the easy stories Chris Carter appears to be doing his job as Labour's Foreign Affairs spokesman by going overseas. What could advance foreign affairs more? Except that once you've gotten over the jetlag is there really much to be gained by meeting some foreign officials? Not really, not for an opposition which is trying and not always succeeding at being an effective critic of the government.

The big challenge for Labour in opposition is not to know more about foreign affairs and be able to say you've met obscure foreigners, but to come up with some effective criticisms of the government, and some alternative policies. You can do that just as well, better, sitting on a chair in Wellington or Waiheke reading books and newspapers, and thinking a bit. Meeting obscure foreigners is great preparation for being in government, but it doesn't help you get out of opposition. Carter's criticism of the government's whaling "strategy" will do far more for Labour than any trip to Europe.

So, two men, Garner and Carter, misdirecting their professional energies into the appearance of doing their job, they are made for each other.

Posted by eroberts at April 8, 2010 4:02 AM