Month: October 2014

The 500 hats of Bartholomew Cubbins – the John Key edition

It’s standard practice for Ministers and Prime Ministers to wear different “hats” in the course of their work. Work done as a Minister can obviously be separate and distinct from an MP’s ordinary functions on behalf of the constituents in their electorates. If a person calls their local MP to discuss a local problem, that person is hardly likely to want that discussion to be released to all and sundry under the Official Information Act.

Likewise, John Key is Prime Minister, a Minister, leader of the National Party and electorate MP for Helensville. The internal running of the National Party is separate and distinct from the running of the country, just as his role of dealing with constituency matters is distinct from his role of Prime Minister.

Unfortunately, sometimes the dividing lines can get a little fuzzy. John Key yesterday refused to answer the following Parliamentary question from Russel Norman:

“How many times since November 2008 has he spoken with blogger Cameron Slater on the phone and how many times, if any, has he texted him?”

John Key’s response?

“None in my capacity as Prime Minister.”

Apparently, any phone calls made by Key to Slater were in Key’s capacity as leader of the National Party, rather than Prime Minister. It all seems very ‘angels dancing on the head of a pin’. After all, if Key calls Slater to discuss information that Key would like circulated via Slater’s blog, and that information has come Key’s way because he’s Prime Minister or Minister of a certain portfolio, surely the call cannot simply be classified as National Party business and therefore exempt from Parliamentary questioning or the OIA?

Just because something is in the interests of the National Party, it doesn’t mean that the OIA does not apply. After all, the alleged leaking of information by Judith Collins to Cameron Slater was in her role as Minister of Justice, and any documentation relating to the leaks must surely be subject to the OIA (although see this post at No Right Turn regarding the failure by Collins’ office to log Slater’s OIA requests).

Dishing dirt to bloggers hardly seems an activity that occurs completely outside of a Ministerial or Prime Ministerial ambit. John Key needs to get his hats in order.

UPDATE:

The NZ Herald reports that Parliament’s Speaker, David Carter, has ruled that John Key should have answered at least one of Russel Norman’s questions:

However, one

where Dr Norman asked if Slater was correct when he said Mr Key had told him the mother of a car crash victim was “the same woman f-ing feral bitch that screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings” should have been answered.
The question “made a connection to the actions of the Prime Minister in response to Pike River Mine Tragedy,” Mr Carter said. “A connection having been made to a matter of ministerial responsibility an informative answer should be given.”

The gentle art of believing nothing

I remember, quite a few years ago now, Jenny Shipley addressing a room and asking the question, “What is the purpose of the National Party?” The answer was: To defeat the Labour Party. National was there to be the party of Government. Ideology came a distant second to the simple joy of Being In Government.

Shipley’s Q&A came to mind during the election campaign, when Matthew Hooton locked horns in spectacular fashion with Michelle Boag on RadioLive (a copy of the audio has been helpfully archived here by Peter Aranyi at The Paepae). Hooton described Boag as “a hack” with “no political views”, given that Boag had steadfastly supported National throughout all of its ideological manifestations from Muldoon onwards.

Labour was established for a reason – the party name says it all. National was established as a vehicle to beat Labour.

That’s not to say that there aren’t many in National who do subscribe to a political ideology. National, like Labour, has its competing ideological factions: liberal v conservative, free market v Muldoonist intervention, pro-environment v farming lobby etc. Nonetheless, the party has a knack of re-inventing itself when political necessity demands it. For example, just six years after Muldoonism was comprehensively routed at the ballot box, National was a completely different beast, championing the free-market reforms begun under Roger Douglas. Likewise, just three years after Don Brash’s divisive Iwi/Kiwi campaign, National was in partnership with the Maori Party. The factions whose ideologies are out of favour may not be impressed at times, but they toe the line because Being In Power matters.

Labour, in contrast, is still working its way through the angst created by the party’s lurch to the right in the 1980s. During the Helen Clark years, it seemed that Labour had learned the lesson of not letting any one ideology have too free a rein, with Helen Clark doing her level best not to stray too far from the political centre. She was aided, of course, by the fact that at that time the hard-left ideologues stayed safely tucked away in the Alliance Party.  These days, many of the factions within Labour seem more interested in a splendid defeat than a victory based on a policy platform that isn’t entirely in line with their thinking.

Now the title of this post doesn’t intend to imply that National doesn’t have a political agenda, or that Labour shouldn’t have one. Rather, that each party, as an overarching  entity, shouldn’t be too wedded to a specific ideology. Political winds change, and any party that wants to succeed must tack with the wind. National’s internal factions know how to bide their time; Labour’s have been in open warfare since the demise of the Clark Government.

Can Labour’s activist base accept that some dead rats must be swallowed in order to win back power? Or will the factional infighting hand John Key and National a fourth or even fifth term?

Like a cult…

When a party loses badly, the public expects a bit of sorrowful wailing and beating of breasts. To say “This is what we did wrong, and this is how we’ll fix it” is an important part of restoring trust with the electorate. David Cunliffe didn’t appear to appreciate that, which contributed to the demise of his leadership aspirations. The remaining candidates certainly have accepted the need for a show of party penitence. There have been promises of full-scale policy review, and greater listening to the public (whatever that may mean).

David Parker has taken the penitence to a new level, saying that Labour occasionally “almost feels like a cult” and that it must look at its branding, including its use of the colour red.

Quite what Mr Parker was intending with his comments is a mystery. It’s all very well to get the public on side with a show of remorse for the electoral beating Labour has just suffered, but describing your party as “like a cult” hardly seems likely to foster a feeling of public affection.

Further, Mr Parker is still engaged in a contest in which the membership will vote. And publicly describing the party as “like a cult” seems rather like a direct attack on the membership. Likening the activist base and general party hierarchy to a collection of close-minded, intolerant fundamentalists strikes me as a terrible way to endear oneself to a group that will make up 40% of the votes in the leadership contest.

Mr Parker has certainly never been the front-runner in the leadership race, but his comments will likely have made the road ahead even harder for him.

Rebirth of the Poll of Polls

So, how did my Poll of Polls do? Pretty rubbish really… The rapid rise of NZ First and the Conservatives during the last half of the campaign didn’t come through in my results, and there certainly seems to be something systemic about the Greens’ ability to fall short of their poll results come election day.

So, I’ve been playing around with the numbers, and have messed with my algorithm to produce what should (hopefully) be a more accurate beast. The changes involve further front-loading of the weighting of new polls (so that the Poll of Polls responds more quickly to meteoric rises a la NZ First and the Conservatives), updating the in-house polling bias offsets, and introducing industry bias offsets (to hopefully deal with issues such as the systematic overly high poll results for the Greens or the lower on average results for NZ First, compared to election day results).

The Poll of Polls is therefore reborn, all ready for today’s Roy Morgan poll. If Labour needed any further evidence that the public think the party is in a hopeless state of disarray, this is it. The party hits a new Roy Morgan low of just 22.5%. National also slumps, hitting 43.5%.

The Greens are the big winners, hitting a record high of 17.5% – cold comfort, given their relatively lacklustre election result. Of the remaining minor parties, NZ First is on 7%, the Maori Party is on 2%, ACT is on 0.5%, United Future is on 0.5%, the Conservatives are on a record high of 5%, and Internet Mana is on 1%.

So how does the new (hopefully) improved Poll of Polls look?

National: 46.1% (-0.9% from its election result)

Labour: 24.6% (-0.5%)

Greens: 11.8% (+1.1%)

NZ First: 8.3% (-0.4%)

Maori: 1.2% (-0.1%)

United Future: 0.3% (+0.1%)

ACT: 0.7% (nc)

Internet Mana: 1.6% (+0.2%)

Conservative: 4.2% (+0.2%)

Based on those percentages, the parties are predicted to win the following number of seats:

National: 59 (-1 from its election result)

Labour: 32 (nc)

Greens: 15 (+1)

NZ First: 11 (nc)

Maori: 2 (nc)

United Future: 1 (nc)

ACT: 1 (nc)

Internet Mana: 0 (nc)

Conservative: 0 (nc)

Given National’s drop in the Roy Morgan, and the Greens’ outlier of a result, it’s not surprising to see National lose a seat to the Greens. Whether the Greens can hold anywhere near their Roy Morgan support in other upcoming polls remains to be seen…

The Right bloc sits on a total of 61 seats, compared to 47 for a Labour, Greens and Internet Mana alliance, meaning National could continue to govern with the support of both United Future and ACT.

Panic in Detroit. And Auckland.

So New Zealand has a Terrorist Threat Level! Who knew?! Well, exist it does, and it’s been raised – from “very low” to “low”.

As I set fire to a large pile of bamboo this morning, The Smiths’ song ‘Panic’ came to mind. As the bamboo explosions rang out across Gisborne, it amused me to slightly amend the lyrics:

Panic on the streets of Auckland
Panic on the streets of Wellington…

Of course, The Smiths were singing about panic induced by vacuous pop music, but, as the bamboo burned, it segued nicely into a merry rendition of Bowie’s ‘Panic in Detroit’. However, despite my fire sounding like a mixture of gang warfare and the detonation of explosive ordnance, there wasn’t any need to panic. It was all sound and fury, signifying nothing, much like the New Zealand Government right now.

Imperator Fish has published a most excellent New Zealand Government Cynicism Level Indicator, which seems to accurately sum up John Key’s announcement about the existence of the Terror Threat Level.

Imperator Fish's NZ Government Cynicism Level Indicator

Imperator Fish’s NZ Government Cynicism Level Indicator

After all, prior to the election, John Key ruled out sending troops to Iraq. Now, with the other four Five Eyes countries sending troops of one description or another, Key wants in. And he wants the public on side with him once the decision is made, as the last thing he wants to do is get New Zealand involved in a foreign war without majority public approval.

Now I’m not saying that New Zealand shouldn’t help out our allies in Iraq in some form or another. There’s certainly a case to be made as to why we should be involved. Key is busy making the case, and part of that case is the art of making New Zealanders uneasy about the threat of terror. Bad Things are happening overseas, and we have a duty to try and stop them. If not, we’ll only have ourselves to blame when those Bad Things come to our own shores.

That’s where the cynicism comes in. Raising the Terror Threat Level, and then making that raise public without giving any real indication as to why it was raised, is a very deliberate strategy to make people uncomfortable. It’s a strategy that works for National on two levels.

Firstly, it brings people into line to support the Government sending troops to fight the Islamic State. IS must be crushed, because it is now the most public face of Islamic terrorism. The stronger it grows, the more likely it is that something like the alleged Australian beheading plot will happen here.

Secondly, people are less likely to ask searching questions about the actions of our domestic spy agencies. If something like the Aussie beheading plot were to be planned here, who would stop it? Our spies! Neuter their ability to spy on New Zealanders, and they lose their ability to keep us safe…

Key’s public announcement regarding the Terror Threat Level makes it a dead set certainty that New Zealand troops will be heading to Iraq.

Cunliffe bows out

David Cunliffe has pulled out of Labour’s leadership race, and in doing so, he’s given Grant Robertson and David Parker a two-fingered salute by way of an endorsement of Andrew Little.

Following The Nation‘s interview with David Shearer over the weekend, Cunliffe’s attempt to regain the leadership had become completely untenable. Shearer’s comments about struggling to get through the working day because he had to support Cunliffe as leader were an epic declaration of war. Shearer was essentially saying that he and other senior Labour MPs could not and would not support Cunliffe if he were re-elected to the leadership. Cunliffe had no choice but to bow out, for the good of the party.

Yesterday, with Parker’s entry into the race, I would have thrown my hands in the air and given up on attempting to pick a front runner. Now, the front-runner is back to being Little. Andrew Little will undoubtedly have the over-whelming union vote, possibly higher than the 70% level of support that Cunliffe reached in last year’s contest. Additionally, Cunliffe’s caucus supporters will undoubtedly pull in behind Little, which, in conjunction with Little’s own supporters, should give him an initial base of around a third of the caucus.

If Robertson and Parker largely split the remaining caucus vote between them, and neither picks up much of the union vote, it’s hard to see how Andrew Little will be anything but ahead in the first round. However, if Little can’t get a majority victory in the first round, things will get interesting. How much of Robertson or Parker’s (whichever drops out first) caucus support will go Little’s way? Does the ABC faction’s distaste for Cunliffe go so far as to a refusal to support whoever he attempts to anoint (ie. Little)? And which way will the membership jump?

Grant Robertson really doesn’t seem to excite much support out in the wider party. But then, it is a little difficult to get excited by career politicians. The problem is that neither Parker nor Little seem to attract much excitement either. They’re solid and intelligent, but hardly charismatic. Andrew Little certainly struggled to shine on The Nation over the weekend, even attracting unfavourable comparisons to David Shearer’s legendary inarticulateness during his time as leader.

Nonetheless, I’ve suggested before that Labour doesn’t necessarily need a wildly charismatic leader if wants to get back into contention by 2017. It needs stability, and it needs a leader that New Zealanders feel they can trust. Cunliffe wasn’t that leader, but either Parker or Little could be. The first task will be mending the breach between MPs and the wider party, and that’s the most fundamental argument against Robertson, in that he was seen as the ABC’s choice to spearhead the fight against Cunliffe.

And now, with nominations closing tomorrow, we wait to see whether David Shearer decides to have another shot, and further complicates the maths…

What effect will Andrew Little have on the leadership race?

In 2013, David Cunliffe won the Labour leadership contest in the first round, winning 51.15% of the total vote. Second preferences weren’t needed. Despite winning just over 32% of the caucus vote, Cunliffe blitzed the field in the membership vote (60.14%) and union vote (70.77%). Grant Robertson came in a distant second, with just short of 33% of the total vote, while Shane Jones limped home in third with almost 16%.

Jones was never a serious contender. It was an ego boost for him, as well as being a form of post-porn redemption. Andrew Little’s candidacy though is a different sort of beast. Whereas Jones was largely despised by the unions (picking up only around 12% of the union vote), Little – as a former EPMU secretary – has serious union street cred. Likewise, where Jones was distrusted by a significant portion of the party membership – seen as a sort of closet National sympathiser – Little has solid left credentials, offset perhaps by a somewhat humourless reputation and an inability to win an electorate seat.

So what does that mean for the leadership race? Firstly, it means that Cunliffe is highly unlikely to hold his 2013 membership and union voting base.  A portion was already likely to have deserted him, thanks to the terrible 2014 election campaign, but that portion is likely to now significantly increase, to Little’s benefit.

The pro-Little effect is likely to most significant in the union vote, which makes up 20% of the total. Little’s former union, the EPMU, is the strongest of the six affiliated unions, making up around 40% of the total union vote. Cunliffe received 71.43% of the EPMU vote last time; this time round, it would be extremely surprising if they didn’t break heavily for Little. That’s just shy of 8% of the total vote already in Little’s camp, largely from Cunliffe’s side of the ledger.

That means that it’s highly unlikely that any of the three candidates are going to win the leadership without going to preferences. So, who’s most likely to drop out first? If it’s Cunliffe or Robertson, you can be sure that most of their supporters’ second preferences would be for Little, as the compromise candidate. That would likely be enough to hand Little the leadership. If Little drops out first though, Robertson will likely be leader.

Let’s play with some (admittedly rough and ready) numbers:

  • At present, it sounds like Cunliffe has the support of about a quarter of the caucus, while Robertson has about half. So let’s use those proportions and give Little the remaining quarter.
  • And let’s assume that Robertson slightly grows his share of the membership vote to 30%, while Little grabs 30% and Cunliffe maintains an edge with 40%.
  • And let’s further assume that the EPMU largely votes Little, while Robertson holds his share of the remaining five unions, and Little and Cunliffe split the remainder about half and half between them. That gives Little about 60% of the total union vote, with Cunliffe on 30% and Robertson on 10%.

All up, that gives both Robertson and Little a total of 34%, while Cunliffe is only marginally behind on 32%. It’s a close race, but Cunliffe would drop out, making Little the likely victor on preferences.

It wouldn’t take much for the result to go in a rather different direction. For instance, if the unions didn’t break quite as heavily for Little, giving him 50% rather than 60%, and that 10% stayed with Cunliffe, suddenly both Cunliffe and Robertson would be sitting together on 34%, while Little would come third on 32%.

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to say how much Cunliffe’s support amongst the membership and unions has been damaged by the 2014 election campaign. Labour’s former president Mike Williams told National Radio on Monday that the unions had voted overwhelmingly for Cunliffe because they thought he could beat Key. According to Williams, the unions no longer think that.

My pick at this stage? Cunliffe to drop out in round one, with Little triumphing on preferences. Unless of course the picture gets further complicated by David Shearer or David Parker entering, to make the race a four- or five-way… Because then all bets would be off!

 

 

$1000 well spent for Hone

“Harawira’s recount bid backfires” declared the headline for Tracy Watkins’ article for Stuff, as it was revealed that Hone Harawira’s Te Tai Tokerau seat recount resulted in Harawira losing two votes and Kelvin Davis gaining two votes.

Except that Harawira had explicitly stated that he wasn’t trying to overturn the result. Instead, the recount was about bringing publicity to Harawira’s allegations that Maori roll voters were subject to systematic racism. On National Radio’s Morning Report, he stated:

“Opening polling booths without Maori roll voting papers, I’m talking about people not being offered assistance to vote, Maori people getting sent from Whangarei to Wellsford to vote, Maori people getting turned away because they didn’t have their EasyVote card, Maori people having their identity questioned because of their different name, Maori people being treated like they just don’t deserve to be in the polling booth.”

Likewise, on Newstalk ZB, it was reported:

Mr Harawira has accused the Electoral Commission of racism, and today says he’s heard of Maori voters being turned away from polling booths because they didn’t have their Easy Vote card, or being told they couldn’t cast a special vote. He claims in some instances, Maori voters were told to wait while Pakeha voters were served first.

Is there any truth to the allegations? Who knows. To my knowledge, Harawira certainly hasn’t rolled out any accusers. It’s entirely possible that throughout the many Te Tai Tokerau voting booths there have been isolated incidents of racial discrimination. I’d be extremely dubious dubious about claims that any discrimination is systemic – Harawira and hyperbole have always gone well together.

Nonetheless, the cost to Harawira and Mana for the recount was just $1,000. And for that $1,000, Harawira received a solid media platform to publicise his concerns regarding racial discrimination in our electoral system. I’d say that’s pretty good value for money.

Harawira’s recount bid backfired? Not really…

 

The slow decline of ACT continues

In a way, you’ve got to hand it to ACT. The party’s obituary has been written many a time, as Hide, Brash and Banks fumbled their way along. Everyone was certain that the humiliation of Banks was the end of the line. Nonetheless, defying the naysayers, David Seymour held the seat of Epsom. ACT survived for another Parliamentary term.

Except, of course, that Jamie Whyte, party leader and philosopher-warrior, didn’t make it into Parliament to join Seymour. Immediately following the election, Whyte was in limbo as leader, still in charge, but awaiting the ponderings of the Board as to his future. The limbo is now over – he has tendered his resignation, and the Board has accepted.

Which means that David Seymour is now the leader of ACT. Is this the point where the donors turn off the tap? Where the members shrug and walk away?

Back in the Brash and Banks days, there was the occasional murmur regarding pulling the pin on the ACT name and forming a new party, keeping the donors and members, and jettisoning the public faces of a sullied brand. It must be tempting for the party’s backers to reconsider that option, given the joke that ACT has now become. Nonetheless, the party still has a seat, an MP and an under-secretary position, with all of the funding that goes with that.

And National keeps providing the electricity for ACT’s life support machine. There’s no guarantee that a fresh new libertarian movement would receive a hand up from National. With no electoral seat accommodation, it’s highly unlikely that a new party to National’s right would be able to explode out of the gates to hit 5% by 2017.

Which means that ACT will continue to limp on, its death rattle continuing. Seymour and the Board will talk of rejuvenation and growth, but I can’t see it happening. The best that might happen is that Seymour holds the fort well enough to bring in a second MP next time round. The odds are long, but they’re odds ACT will take because, frankly, they’ve got no choice…

Orwellian?

Labour Party member Phil Quin yesterday posted the contents of an email from party president Moira Coatsworth to members. His blog title? “Moira Coatsworth’s Orwellian Gambit“. One might think, from a title invoking Orwell, that Ms Coatsworth’s email contained some fairly strong stuff. Well, judge for yourself:

New Zealand Council last night agreed the following expectations for Party members.

Robust exchanges about the merits of any candidate for leadership need to be based on performance and attributes which are relevant to their ability to be the Labour Leader.

Members (including candidates for leadership) should not directly or indirectly refer to a candidate for leadership in a way which is denigrating or disrespectful.

Members should be cautious to ensure that any statements they make are factually accurate and fair. They should ensure that any public comment on the candidates, the Party and the leadership election system uphold the status of the Party and its chances of election to Government, and do not bring it into disrepute.

To my mind, Ms Coatsworth’s missive reads more like an appeal for polite, reasoned discourse, than a despotic crushing of free speech. As it happens, Mr Quin this morning recanted, posting on Pundit an admission that perhaps Orwellian was a rather silly word to use.

That was as far as the retraction went:

It was pompous hyperbole, a rhetorical misdemeanor, to deem Labour’s edict ‘Orwellian’. The decision by the New Zealand Council to specifically outlaw speech considered disrespectful or denigratory during the leadership primary campaign is merely heavy-handed, obnoxious and unnecessary.

Phil Quin will not be silenced, which is fair enough. He also appears to fundamentally distrust Ms Coatsworth and General Secretary Tim Barnett, which is, again, fair enough – they presumably belong to a different faction to Mr Quin, and factional infighting is certain alive and well in the Labour Party.

However, where Mr Quin goes wrong is his assumption that the public doesn’t care about disunity:

The source of Labour’s woes isn’t the perception of disunity but the stark reality of its disconnection with voters. Our problem is not too much debate, but too little — and now is precisely the worst time to tell members to watch their tongues.

I’ve previously noted that no matter how the Labour caucus gelled during the election campaign, it was never going to overcome the previous two and a half years of the party’s self-mutilation. Going feral in public may be highly satisfying for those involved, but it’s not likely to a) end Labour’s current factional war, or b) engender any modicum of respect for Labour from the voting public.

As an outsider looking in, I can only shake my head and wonder what precisely Phil Quin hopes to achieve by releasing his email communications with Moira Coatsworth. If it’s an attempt to undermine Coatsworth and Barnett, then it’s possibly a cunning plan. Beyond that, it simply feeds into the narrative that Labour are too busy fighting each other to bother attacking National.

The leadership contest is (another) opportunity for the candidates and their supporters to engage in a reasoned debate about Labour’s role in New Zealand politics and its future positioning. Attacks like Mr Quin’s are a less than constructive addition to the debate…