Labour and the moral high ground

Since Andrew Little began his tightrope walk regarding whether Northland voters should or shouldn’t vote Labour, there has been much philosophising as to whether a “dirty deal” did or did not go down.

To my mind, quite clearly, no deal occurred. A deal requires some form of reciprocity. It requires agreement between parties. In Epsom, over the last few elections, a fair amount of conversation obviously went on between National and ACT; in 2011, the stage-managed “cup of tea” made it perfectly clear that a deal had been done.

In Northland, however, Labour’s actions were unilateral (unless some extremely surreptitious and plausibly deniable discussions occurred, that will only surface in a decade’s time in someone’s political autobiography). Labour realised they had no show of winning, figured Winston had reasonable odds of severely embarrassing National, and changed their message to give him the best possible shot. Serendipitous for Winston, but not something he had sought.

Nonetheless, given Labour’s (in)actions in Northland, can they continue to claim a moral high ground when, in 2017, National again gives David Seymour and/or Peter Dunne a free ride in their respective electorates?

Many journalists, commentators and, of course, Right-aligned bloggers, have been happily labelling Andrew Little a hypocrite. Moral high ground lost. The right to lambast National for Epsom-style deals gone forevermore.

Such analysis has, predictably, enraged many of the good folk over at The Standard (see ‘By-elections are FPP‘), while others on the Left such as Rob Salmond and Danyl Mclauchlan provide their reasoning as to why Northland and Epsom are Different. As Mr Salmond writes:

Here are three core differences:

  1. Labour was never going to win Northland, whereas National could win Epsom just by clicking its fingers. Labour’s motivation is to engineer a loss for its major opponent, while National is trying to engineer a loss for itself. Which of those do you think is more legitimate in a competitive environment?
  2. Labour’s actions in Northland were quarantined to Northland only. They only affected who is the MP for Northland. National’s deals, on the other hand, are specifically designed to work around New Zealand’s rules about proportionality. National’s deals try to engineer a 5-for-1 deal on ACT MPs (which is exactly what they got in 2008.) National’s deals rort MMP; Labour’s avoid FPP vote-splitting. Those are not the same thing.
  3. Labour’s actions were unilateral. Labour did not receive any assurance of anything from Peters before making the call to change tack. Labour looked at the facts on the ground, and changed its plan accordingly. National, by contrast, makes a big show of obtaining a quid pro quo in advance. Labour had a strategy; National made a deal.

Personally, I agree with the reasoning of Salmond, Mclauchlan and Bunji at The Standard. Yes, by-elections are FPP. Yes, there was no “deal”. Yes, Northland was never Labour’s to win. Northland and Epsom are indeed different.

The problem though is that, at a glance, they also look suspiciously similar. Which is why Gower and Garner et al are so easily able to characterise Labour’s actions as hypocrisy. And explaining is losing.

For those who care, the distinction between Northland and Epsom is patently obvious. To the casual by-stander though, Labour and National are just as bad as each other. And no amount of explanatory blogposts are likely to change that…


ACT goes for broke

ACT’s campaign launch occurred yesterday. It’s slightly odd that the party would launch their campaign after people have already started voting, but there you go. Keeping their powder dry and all that…

Party leader Jamie Whyte’s keynote speech to the ACT faithful was everything his party would have hoped for – a mixture of hard-hitting attacks on just about every party around (I think the only party he didn’t bother to attack was United Future, which is a good measure of Peter Dunne’s continued irrelevance) and the release of some old-fashioned back-to-ACT’s-roots policy.

Policy-wise, ACT would abolish the Overseas Investment Office:

It has no proper job to do. When foreigners invest in New Zealand, we benefit. There is no injury for the OIO to protect us from.

Likewise, the Resource Management Act would go to:

The problem is not with the administration of the RMA. The problem is with the very conception of it. The RMA is an assault on property rights that stifles investment and economic growth. The restrictions it puts on using land for residential development are the reason housing is so expensive.

The speech will certainly have fired up the troops. Matthew Hooton was aflame with passion about it this morning on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme, while David Farrar couldn’t resist quoting extensively from it at Kiwiblog.

The problem ACT faces is that “the troops” really aren’t a significant chunk of the population. The most ACT has polled this year is 1%, while sometimes they’ve failed to register at all. In this site’s Poll of Polls, they’re currently sitting on just 0.4%, not quite low enough to produce an overhang, but well below the approximately 1.3% they need to bring in Jamie Whyte (assuming David Seymour takes Epsom).

ACT needs something that will resonate with more than 1% of the population, and quickly. They’ve tried a return to One Law For All (which was again recapped in Whyte’s speech), but it produced no sparks in the polls. Winston Peters, Colin Craig and, to a lesser extent, David Cunliffe were already on board that particular bandwagon, and the remainder of ACT’s  policy platform obviously wasn’t palatable enough to lure the One Law For All vote from those parties towards ACT.

ACT presumably hopes that there is a significant core of landowners who are sick to death of being told what they can and can’t do with their property by the RMA. (Although, of course, David Seymour has been campaigning on putting greater RMA-style roadblocks in the path of development in Epsom, which seems more than a little ideologically impure or, dare I say it, hypocritical.) Quite who the party is targeting with the eradication of the OIO is less clear. How many large farm-owners can there possibly be who will vote ACT in order to sell their farms to foreigners without having to go through the OIO? Every vote counts, I suppose.

But will the RMA and OIO policy backfire on ACT? Rachel Smalley certainly seems to think so:

He appears to lack the one attribute that every political party leader in this country has, and that is an emotional attachment to New Zealand. Winston has it, so does Key and Cunliffe and Norman. Colin Craig does. Harawira, Harré, Flavell, Turei, Dunne – they all have it in spades. Whyte doesn’t.

It does not concern him if every last acre is sold offshore. Let the market decide, he will say. ACT sees New Zealand as a market, to be bought and sold to the highest bidder.

So will this resonate with voters? No, it won’t. Nothing ACT does resonates with voters. Have a look at the polls – the party barely registers any support at all.

So what will Epsom voters do in light of this? Will voters accept their role as political zombies and do as they’re told, breathing life into the ACT Party? Or will they vote how they wish, perhaps for the Conservatives, perhaps for National, and let nature take its course?

We shall see. Whyte has snatched some headlines with this policy, but at what cost? The philosopher, I think, has gone a step too far with this one.

I’m not sure I agree with Ms Smalley on her conclusion that Whyte’s speech is a step too far. Setting aside ACT’s perennially populist ‘tough on crime’ and One Law For All stances, their policy settings have always been dry and rational (depending on your particular brand of rationality). Epsom voters know that ACT will have little to no sway in the next Parliament, and exist in all practical terms merely to ensure the continuance of a National-led Government. They know there is no chance that National would go along with abolition of the RMA, and a less-than-zero chance that National would buck strong public opinion against overseas asset sales. The calculus is simple: A vote for David Seymour in Epsom is a vote for a further three years of a National-led Government.

Where I do agree with Ms Smalley is with her assessment that ACT’s RMA and OIO policies won’t resonate with voters. The party is going for broke with a headline grabbing speech, but the timing is all wrong. The minor party debates have now been and gone, and the focus will now shift to the remaining Key v Cunliffe debates. Abolishing the RMA and OIO needed to be hammered home weeks ago, when Whyte had easy access to the cameras. Instead, perusing the NZ Herald and Stuff websites this morning, Whyte’s speech has largely sunk without trace.

Jamie Whyte should begin resigning himself to remaining a leader outside of Parliament.

Christine Rankin in Epsom

The Conservative Party have announced that Christine Rankin will stand in Epsom. It’s not surprising, and it won’t make a difference to the election result.

The reason it’s not surprising is that the Conservatives now need every piece of publicity they can grasp. With almost zero hope of winning East Coast Bays, now that John Key has pulled the rug out from beneath Colin Craig, the Conservatives need their face on the evening news as often as possible as they go for the magical 5% threshold. Christine Rankin still has a profile – she’ll get the occasional soundbite on the 6pm news when the Epsom electorate holds a candidate meeting.

Ms Rankin is standing because the Conservatives now have no choice. They’d tried to dial back the odd-factor, selling themselves as responsible possible-partners for National, desperately hoping for an East Coast Bays deal. That’s now gone pear-shaped, and every bit of publicity now counts.

The reasons it won’t make a difference to the election result are two twofold.

Firstly, almost no one will be voting for ACT’s David Seymour because they think he’s the best candidate. His introductory “Hi, hi, hi, hi video” and his appearance on The Nation’s Epsom candidates debate (minus Paul Goldsmith) put paid to that long ago. The good people of Epsom will vote for Mr Seymour because he will resolutely support National. It’s a tactical vote, and almost no votes will flow from Seymour to Rankin. The simple fact is that Ms Rankin has no chance of winning, meaning there’s no tactical reason to vote for her. Her (few) votes will come from conservative National party voters who still don’t understand MMP and aren’t sure whether Paul Goldsmith actually exists.

Secondly, the Conservatives are polling so far below the 5% threshold that a few appearances from Christine Rankin on the evening news will have no appreciable effect on the party’s ability to cross that threshold. The few extra party votes she might garner by standing will still see the Conservatives fall well short of 5%. Likewise, the election result will have to be closer than a barbershop shave for the party votes stolen by Ms Rankin from National to make a difference.

Ms Rankin is an inconsequential distraction, nothing more.


The NZ Herald reports that:

[Conservative] Party leader Colin Craig says they have polled the electorate, and found the ACT Party isn’t going to win.

Well, I hope his polling company is better than one he used last election, when he predicted he’d win the Rodney electorate, but came third…


It’s also perhaps worth noting that in 2011, the Conservative Party came sixth in the Epsom party vote contest, gaining just 412 votes, and fifth (of eight candidates) in the electorate vote, picking up just 342 votes (not too far ahead of Penny Bright who managed to get 124 votes).

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory – the Colin Craig saga continues

It’s just three days ago that I wrote:

No matter how high National are polling, they won’t be able to trust that those polls will hold up on 20 September. The numbers from 2011 dictate that National will strike a deal with the Conservatives. They won’t dare risk losing a chunk of the right-wing vote that may be decisive.

I’d thought it was a foregone conclusion that Colin Craig would be gifted a seat by National. The only questions were which seat, when the deal would be announced, and whether National would run a faux candidate or not.

However, Mr Craig’s appearance on the Nation on Saturday morning may well have changed National’s calculus.

All Mr Craig had to do was keep his mouth shut and try and act normal. No talk of fake moon landings or mind-altering chem-trails. Nothing that would make National nervous.

So what does Mr Craig do? He tells Patrick Gower that he hasn’t a hope of beating any of the National MPs in the three North Shore electorates he’s looking at standing in. Given his statement from last week, that he was expecting National to pull one of their candidates to give him a free run at a seat, it’s an implicit admission that he believes that even if National stands a Goldsmith-esque candidate against him, voters will still vote for the National candidate.

That raises a significant problem for National. Do they stand a candidate, give him or her orders to “do a Goldsmith”, and risk having Labour come through the middle? And if they pull a candidate completely, can they trust voters to swallow a Colin Craig-sized dead rat under duress? In Epsom and Ohariu, the voters have always had a choice. If they really didn’t like Rodney Hide, John Banks or Peter Dunne, there was still a National candidate they could plump for. This election will be the same for then. Don’t like Seymour or Dunne? Vote for the National candidate.

National has always asked the voters nicely (or at least given them a saucy little wink and a nudge), and the voters have obliged. What Colin Craig is suggesting though is that the only way he’ll make it into Parliament is through duress. National supporters don’t like me? Tough. There is no National candidate. It’s me or the opposition.

I’m not sure the voters in East Coast Bays, Upper Harbour or Rodney will necessarily play ball. After all, who would be happy being forced into voting for a candidate who admits that he’s otherwise unelectable?

If National don’t end up doing a deal with Mr Craig, National will undoubtedly be hoping that its vote of no confidence in Craig will drive voters away from the Conservatives, possibly back to National. The last thing National would want is the Conservatives getting a decent proportion of the centre-right vote and having it go to waste. Better to send an early signal to voters that a vote for the Conservatives is a wasted vote, and have them desert in droves. The risk, of course, is that those voters head to Winston Peters, helping him get over the line when he might otherwise have fallen just below the 5% threshold.

National’s strategists have some serious thinking to do.

Colin Craig – shuffling shyly in the corner

Colin Craig must be getting desperate. For months now he’s been holding fast to the line that his Conservative Party is confident of crossing the 5% threshold and is therefore not needing or looking for an electorate deal from National. Yet, suddenly, there he was on Radio NZ’s Morning Report yesterday morning, proclaiming that he believes National will do a deal with him. The polls aren’t looking good for the Conservatives (they’re sitting on just 1.5% in this site’s Poll of Polls) and Mr Craig must surely know by now that if National don’t cut him a deal, he’s toast.

The comic element of it all is Mr Craig’s diffidence. He’s trying desperately to sell himself as a vital coalition partner for National, but he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he needs a deal – it will be something thrust upon him, that he’ll have to politely accept. In dance floor terms, he’s standing shyly in the corner, trying to look desirable and hoping that Key asks for a dance before the night ends, but turning away and blushing each time anyone else in the room asks whether he’s got a thing for Key.

If a deal is indeed to be done, National and the Conservatives had better move fast.  If Colin Craig picks a seat, without having a deal in place, only to have the National candidate spit the dummy, things would get extremely messy for both National and the Conservatives.

So which seat will Mr Craig contest? He’s confirmed that he’s intending to make that announcement within a few weeks, and that he’s narrowed his options to Upper Harbour, Rodney or East Coast Bays – he confirmed to Guyon Espiner that those were the only three electorates he was conducting polling in. Epsom and Pakuranga have evidently fallen by the wayside as possible vehicles for Mr Craig’s ambitions…

In Upper Harbour, Paula Bennet has already staked her claim and had that claim supported by John Key. Ms Bennet sets great store in holding an electorate seat, and – given the hammering that Judith Collins’ reputation has taken of late – she’s National’s unofficial top-ranked woman. It would be hard to deny her the safe seat she craves.

In Rodney, incumbent MP Mark Mitchell has this afternoon come out fighting, tweeting, “Colin Craig getting a deal in Rodney – in the famous words of Darryl Kerrigan from the movie The Castle: “Tell him he’s dreamin’.” And Stuff.co.nz are reporting Mr Mitchell as saying, “The prime minister deals with this stuff but as far as I’m concerned there’s no deal in Rodney.” Reading between the lines: Mr Mitchell will roll over and play dead if required, but he’s taking preemptive action in an attempt to get Mr Craig looking elsewhere.

That leaves East Coast Bays and Murray McCully. To me, it’s the most likely target for Colin Craig. McCully must know that his political career doesn’t have too many legs left in it. He seemingly spends more time overseas these days than he does in New Zealand, and he wouldn’t be too surprised to be offered a plum overseas posting in exchange for taking one for the team and dropping onto the list. He’d stick around as a list MP for another term, perhaps continuing in his role as Foreign Affairs Minister, before taking his pick of the overseas postings just before the 2017 election. He’s currently 61. It wouldn’t be too bad a way to drift into retirement…



ACT, Goldsmith and Epsom : sublimely ridiculous

Over the weekend, the Epsom candidates appeared on the Nation. Well, three of the four candidates – Paul Goldsmith was apparently too busy campaigning for the party vote. In a nice piece of political theatre, Labour’s candidate, Michael Wood, affixed a photograph of Mr Goldsmith to a bag of wholemeal flour, vowing to wheel out the bag at every future occasion on which Goldsmith fails to front. (The joke might have been funnier though if the flour was white, rather than wholemeal…)


National are of course still denying that they’ve done any deal with ACT, with John Key promising to be fully transparent about any electorate deals. Given John Key’s fundraising dinner for ACT’s Epsom candidate, David Seymour, coupled with Mr Goldsmith’s no-show on the Nation, one would struggle to credibly argue that National intends to vigorously contest the Epsom electorate vote…

The Nation’s candidate debate was also instructive for a number of other reasons.

Firstly, Paul Goldsmith is not a good liar. “Too busy campaigning for the party vote” was the best excuse he could come up with?

Secondly, watching David Seymour’s performance, you’d have to conclude that Mr Seymour is his own worst enemy. Responding to almost every question with pre-programmed answers which bear no resemblance to the question may occasionally make for a good soundbite. Unfortunately, it also makes for terrible television for the poor viewer having to sit through it. I knew David Seymour back in our Auckland University days, when he was chair of ACT on Campus, and he was a talented, witty debater. That talent appeared to utterly desert him, as he answered questions like a robot and tried to talk over the top of his fellow candidates. It wasn’t pretty.

Thirdly, the Internet Mana Party deal and David Cunliffe’s anti-“coat-tailing” stance is making things awkward for Labour and the Greens. The sole hit that Mr Seymour landed on Michael Wood and the Greens’ Julie Anne Genter was over the hypocrisy of attacking electorate seat deals, but being prepared to tell their supporters to vote for Paul Goldsmith.

Fourthly and finally, ACT will happily dispense with ideology in order to get over the line in Epsom. The highlight of the debate was watching Mr Seymour rail against the possibility of Epsom neighbourhoods with eight-storey towers next to their homes, only to be halted in his tracks by Ms Genter interjecting that ACT was the party of opposition to regulation. Getting rid of the Resource Management Act is obviously an ACT policy that applies only outside of Epsom…

After the election, it’s highly likely that David Seymour will be the new MP for Epsom, but based on his performance and the ongoing failure to fire by party leader Jamie Whyte, Mr Seymour will be ACT’s sole MP.

Dinner is the new tea

Everyone needs to eat, even John Key, but it is Mr Key’s choice of dinner companions is now the discussion point du jour, following his fundraising gig for the Maori Party.

Now, it has been revealed that Mr Key will be the guest speaker at an ACT party fundraiser for the party’s Epsom candidate, David Seymour. It’s a lot cheaper to get to this particular dinner – just $200 compared to the Maori Party’s $5,000 per head extravaganza.

Audrey Young notes that this is essentially John Key’s endorsement of Mr Seymour. No cup of tea will now be required.

Act has been a support partner of National for two terms now and Mr Key has already said National could work with the party again. The dinner is an effective signal to the electorate to vote for the Act candidate but give National the party vote.

Not that much of an endorsement was needed. The “good people of Epsom” are well aware that having ACT around increases the chances of National getting over the line in 2014. As Matthew Hooton has often said, Epsom will swallow all sorts of dead rats if it keeps Labour out of office.