Jacinda Ardern

Holding out for a hero

David Cunliffe cannot beat National in 2017. That’s as close to a political certainty as there is. Labour did as poorly as they did this election in part because of Cunliffe. I know too many people who wouldn’t touch Labour with a barge pole while Cunliffe was leader.

Brian Edwards sums up Cunliffe’s problem well:

Perhaps the most widespread criticism you hear of David Cunliffe is that he doesn’t seem sincere, that the things he says seem to lack spontaneity, to sound rehearsed, scripted, to be part of a performance. It’s not just that the Labour Leader’s acting is over the top; it’s that he should be acting at all.

I think there’s some truth to this, to the ‘but’ that lies at the back of so many people’s minds, the ill-defined but nagging doubt as to whether this is a man you can trust or someone you can afford to like. I hear this all the time. On the street. At parties. In discussion with friends. Ask them for the evidence to support their conclusion and you rarely get a clear answer. It’s just an impression, a perception, a feeling. But it may account in part for Labour’s dismal showing in the election. And it may be enough to prevent David Cunliffe ever becoming Prime Minister.

But that’s only the start of it. From even before David Cunliffe was elected leader, everyone knew that most of his colleagues despised him. The term ABC – Anyone But Cunliffe – became a common expression on the evening news. Labour’s MPs may have put their vendettas on hold during the election campaign proper, but the previous year of leaks, backstabbing and continual undermining of Cunliffe had left the public with no illusions that Labour was desperately divided house.

If Cunliffe somehow manages to retain the leadership, the situation will be even worse. Voters will continue to stay away from Labour in droves.

Unfortunately, Grant Robertson doesn’t appear to offer much in terms of mending a broken party. Many in the caucus seem reluctant to get in behind him – they really dislike Cunliffe, but they’re still not sure whether Robertson has what it takes to defeat Key. And a majority of the members seem even less enthused by him, perhaps put off by his career politician, “beltway” background.

Besides, like a drunken fratboy, the Labour leadership contest has gone ugly early. Cunliffe is already damaged goods; by the time the primary campaign is over, Robertson might well be too.

So who else is there? David Shearer? He’s already failed once as leader. His on-camera appearances may have improved, but they’ve been in the context of defined policy areas, rather than the broad big-picture Q&A sessions he’d have to cope with as leader. If he were to revert back to the role of leader, he would once again fail.

Andrew Little? A possibility. If he threw his hat into the ring, he’d certainly command a great deal of support from the unions, and he doesn’t seem disliked by either the caucus or membership. As a contender for Prime Minister though, he’d likely struggle to be seen as anything other than a mouthpiece for the unions.

Stuart Nash or Kelvin Davis? Far too inexperienced, with no real support base yet to speak of. If either of them makes a tilt for the leadership, it will be for the purpose of increasing their profile and gaining a senior role from whoever wins.

Jacinda Ardern? Too young, with no solid form behind her. See my previous post: “The Mystifying Rise of Jacinda Ardern“.

Which leaves David Parker. As Cunliffe and Robertson fight each other to a standstill, Parker would be an ideal candidate to throw his name in at the last minute and cut through the middle. He’s intelligent and articulate, with a solid policy grasp. He was impressive in the finance debates with Bill English during the election. He’s the sort of stable, respectable figure who might just be able to convince the voting public that Labour can again be trusted.

Crazy? Perhaps. But no less crazy than any of the other alternatives…

 

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The mystifying rise of Jacinda Ardern

As Labour’s leadership debacle lurches nowhere fast, the only winner thus far appears to be Jacinda Ardern. A One News poll (or what One News sometimes likes to call a poll, despite it being a self-selecting online survey. Please, just leave the polling to Colmar Brunton…) found her to be the front-runner for leader. Pundits touted her as a dream deputy leader, should either Grant Robertson or David Shearer emerge victorious. She was apparently on a ticket with a Robertson according to Stuff, but then, eighteen hours later, wasn’t according to the NZ Herald, although she was apparently being considered by Robertson.

Personally, I find it a little mystifying. After all, her track record isn’t exactly the stuff of legends. She’s lost the previously safe Labour seat of Auckland Central twice in a row to Nikki Kaye (although yes, she did cut Kaye’s majority, despite unfavourable boundary changes) and in her role as opposition spokesperson for Social Development, she’s failed to land a hit.

Perhaps the big drawcard is simply that she’s young, attractive and hasn’t yet managed to make any major mistakes. Mind you, if those are the qualifications required to make Labour deputy leader these days, it shows just how far Labour has sunk.

Perhaps others would care to enlighten yours truly as to why Ms Ardern has secured the hearts and minds of the commentariat?

UPDATE (30/09/14):

A friend offers an explanation to me:

She radiates charisma. Door knocks herself, asks the right questions, leaves handwritten notes, and generally puts the people back into politics. That’s how she is making people feel. And it seems to be working! Add that to her back catalogue of do-gooding, and some ‘young hotness’ (she’s better looking than her photos) and you can see why her name keeps coming up…

Apparently I need to meet her in person and it will all become clear…

The Labour numbers game

With a caucus of 32 MPs, David Cunliffe needs the support of at least thirteen MPs in order survive a confidence vote. His opponents need twenty votes to force a full leadership ballot. Yesterday, I listed nine MPs who have either publicly refused to express support for him or have – like David Shearer, Stuart Nash and Damien O’Connor – been overtly hostile.

This morning in the NZ Herald, Claire Trevett lists the pro- and anti-Cunliffe factions:

• Camp Cunliffe: David Cunliffe, Iain Lees-Galloway, Nanaia Mahuta, Sue Moroney, Carmel Sepuloni, Su’a William Sio, Louisa Wall.
• Another candidate: Jacinda Ardern, David Clark, Clayton Cosgrove, Clare Curran, Kelvin Davis, Ruth Dyson, Kris Faafoi, Phil Goff, Chris Hipkins, Annette King, Andrew Little, Trevor Mallard, Stuart Nash, Damien O’Connor, David Parker, Grant Robertson, David Shearer, Rino Tirikatene, Phil Twyford, Megan Woods.
• Unknown: Peeni Henare, Adrian Rurawhe, Jenny Salesa, Meka Whaitiri, Poto Williams.

That’s twenty anti-Cunliffe names right there already, without even the need to put pressure on any of the five ‘unknowns’. Cunliffe has just six supporters (not counting himself), five of whom flanked him at his pre-caucus meeting press conference.

Cunliffe’s opponents presumably therefore have the numbers to force a party-wide leadership ballot any time they like. And as predicted, before they make their move, they’re waiting for the full horror of a campaign review to erode Cunliffe’s support among the members and unions.

The only hope that Cunliffe has of hanging on to his leadership is to resign immediately and force a quick leadership contest. He’d have to hope that the party membership will be sufficiently hacked off about the caucus declaration of war against him that they’ll keep the faith with him. In my view, that’s a slim hope…

Cunliffe supporters are desperately trying to compare the situation to 1996, where Helen Clark lost in New Zealand’s first MMP election, before going on to win power in 1999. There’s no comparison there. Labour may have dropped 6.5% in that election to just 28.2%, but National was just 5.7% ahead, on 33.9% (having dropped 1.2% since 1993). Helen Clark could have formed a government, had Winston Peters jumped in that direction (the direction many had assumed he would go). Labour was well set up to oust National in three years time.

In 2014, however, National is able to govern alone, having received almost 50% of the vote. Labour finds itself 23.4% adrift, and in almost complete internal turmoil.

David Cunliffe is no Helen Clark.

EDIT:

Hmm, I appear to have been led astray by both the One News and 3News political editors, both of whom have been reporting that the anti-Cunliffe campaign requires 60% plus one MP.

However, David Farrar in his post entitled ‘Caucus in Charge‘ says Dann and Gower are wrong, and the ABCs need just 40% to spark a contested ballot. Peter Green confirms this to me on Twitter. That means that Cunliffe needs 21 MPs to survive a confidence vote, which means the ABCs already have the numbers by a huge margin.

Judith Collins makes no sense on the dodgy police stats issue

Following on from my post yesterday regarding police staff “recoding” burglary offending in Counties Manukau south (“Trust NZ Police crime stats? Sure can’t“), Judith Collins has weighed into the debate as acting Police Minister, while Anne Tolley is overseas.

Ms Collins’ reported comments make for strange reading.

Firstly, she’s unimpressed with Jacinda Ardern commenting on the issue:

“I was really disgusted by Jacinda Ardern’s comments in the media. The fact that it’s been sitting around for two years, and the Opposition’s only just got on to it and been rarking it up right before an election tells me that it’s politically motivated.”

It’s disgusting that opposition MPs do their democratic duty and hold the Government to account? Or the opposition is allowed to hold the Government to account, but not in an election year? (Never mind that Ms Ardern says that the first she’d heard about the issue was when the NZ Herald contacted her on Saturday.)

Secondly, with regard to what she knew, when she knew and who she told, she says:

She said she had been told “something about the stats” possibly just after she had finished up as police minister at the end of 2011.

“I’d just heard at some stage, and I don’t know when, and I can’t tell you in what capacity. But I knew that something was wrong with something to do with the statistics.”

She did not pass it on to the police minister because she “didn’t have details”. She did not seek further details “because it was very historical”.

This doesn’t make sense. The reviews conducted by police were for the period 2009 to 2012. Five police officers were sanctioned, with the finger of blame appearing to point most heavily to then-area commander Gary Hill. Mr Hill didn’t start in that role until February 2010.

The Herald reports into this issue haven’t yet made it clear exactly when the suspicious recoding of burglary offending began or ended, but if it began with Gary Hill’s arrival as area commander and his declaration that cutting burglary statistics was his priority, then it had begun less than two years before Judith Collins heard about it in late 2011. That’s hardly “very historical”.

Further, why, as a former Police Minister, would Collins not have tapped the current Police Minister on the shoulder and said, “By the way, I’ve heard something’s wrong with the crime stats. You might want to ask some questions.”?

And what was Ms Collins told back in late 2011? Just “There’s something wrong the crime stats”? She says she “didn’t have details”, but did she not ask her source, “Um, so what is wrong with the stats?” She simply said, “That’s nice” and wandered off, without any further questions?

The last word can go to Jacinda Adern, who told the Herald:

“Of course we are not implying this is something that every police officer has engaged in. That would be totally unfair. But we think it is important to maintain public confidence in police record-keeping, via the minister demonstrating that this is not a more widespread problem, and I think that is an entirely reasonable request.”

Trust NZ Police crime stats? Sure can’t…

The Herald on Sunday has revealed this morning that between 2009 and 2012, 700 instances of burglary offending in Counties Manukau were incorrectly “recoded”, recorded instead as more minor crimes, such as theft or wilful damage, or as “incidents”, which aren’t counted in the crime statistics at all.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has completed a review into the recording of burglary offending in Counties Manukau, and has concluded that burglaries were recoded at a rate of 15% to 30% between 2009 and 2012 in Counties Manukau south, in comparison to a rate of about 5% in other areas.

Anne Tolley says there was no pressure from the Government to fudge the statistics. I’d note that pressure does not have to be overt for it to still occur.

However, the problem does not appear to have been in relation to even the whole of Counties Manukau district; instead it was confined to Counties Manukau south. And the Herald article points plainly to why the recoding likely occurred and where a large degree of the pressure likely came from.

Counties Manukau and Gisborne are the country’s burglary capitals, and in February 2010 Counties Manukau south received a new area commander, Gary Hill, who declared that his key priority was cutting burglary statistics. When the recoding was discovered, five police staff were sanctioned, including area commander Hill. It doesn’t take a genius to presume that an ambitious new area commander might well have shoulder-tapped a few loyal staff and given a wink and a nudge to the effect that downplaying of burglar reporting would be smiled upon.

Police deny that it was systematic. Although five staff were sanctioned, two internal police inquiries “found staff had simply failed to follow national guidelines for burglary coding”.

Whether it was systematic or not, is a little beside the point. As Labour’s police spokeswoman, Jacinda Ardern, points out in the Herald article:

[Ms] Ardern said it was an “incredibly damning” insight into how the crime statistics could be altered to match a certain agenda. “Political targets skew behaviour. In this case, the integrity of the crime statistics in that area have been seriously undermined.

You have to ask, does recoding or other statistical minimisation occur in other areas, such as domestic violence reporting? When police attend a domestic violence callout, is there pressure to hand out a basic warning or issue a Police Safety Order, rather than make an arrest and lay a criminal charge? Sometimes use of warnings or PSOs is good policing – intervention before a domestic situation escalates to the level of criminality; however, over-use of such tools can result in the minimisation of domestic violence in crime reporting.

The result of the fiddling of the burglary stats by certain Counties Manukau south staff means that a more cynical look is needed when politically hot types of crime suffer sudden falls. Those five police staff members have done police no favours.