Len Brown

Serious questions for Jared Savage & the NZ Herald

So, further to the Cameron Slater email that felled Judith Collins, there’s a particular line in the email that’s rather troubling:

I am maintaining daily communications with Jared Savage at the Herald and he is passing information directly to me that the Herald can’t run and so are feeding me to run on the blog.

Perhaps Jared Savage might like to explain what precisely he as a journalist was doing feeding information to Cameron Slater that Savage couldn’t publish himself. If the NZ Herald can’t use certain information in a story, it’s presumably because they’re worried about the legal consequences. So why would a reputable journalist then pass that information on to a blogger to use?

Let’s look at the Len Brown sex scandal story. It wasn’t something any mainstream media outlet was going to touch. Until it was all over the Whaleoil site, which meant that it was now news. Was/Is there a similar modus operandi here from those working at the Herald? We can’t run the story, but if we give it to Slater we can report on what he’s “reported”?

Or was it simply a Herald smear campaign against the then-SFO director? “We can’t report it, but we want to take him down.” Because if that’s the case, that’s not journalism; that’s a vendetta. Worse, it’s a vendetta performed in secret by the very people we are supposed to trust as impartial reporters of fact.


Waiting for the miracle – the sad case of Martyn Bradbury

So Kim Dotcom will reveal his “evidence” that John Key lied when he said he’d never heard of Dotcom before the infamous raid on the Dotcom mansion. Of course, whatever it is that Dotcom has up his sleeve was always going to be released during the election campaign. After all, as Cameron Slater discovered with the Len Brown sex scandal, publishing all of the details just after the election date doesn’t help with the actual election result.

The only interesting detail was that the “evidence” will be released at the Auckland Town Hall just five days out from the election. Five days? If that’s the case, the whole thing looks decidedly shifty, with Dotcom wanting to minimise the time in which the “evidence” can be scrutinised. If you’ve got a smoking gun, why not put it on display immediately?

Personally, I don’t believe Dotcom has anything much. Take this piece from Russell Brown:

On the face of it, Prime Minister John Key’s consistent claim that he had never heard of Kim Dotcom until the eve of the extraordinary armed raid on the Dotcom mansion on January 20 2012 seems unlikely and absurd.

How could he not have known of the flamboyant, controversial German occupying a huge property in his electorate? If three of his senior ministers and even his own electorate office staff were familiar with Dotcom and his issues, how could he not be?

But there has never been any evidence to prove otherwise.

“It doesn’t exist,” journalist David Fisher affirmed to the room at the last Wintec Press Club lunch. “I know. I’ve looked.”

If David Fisher hasn’t yet found the smoking gun, I’d be very surprised if hard evidence exists. Most likely, there’ll be proof of a meeting between John Key and someone American, just prior to the raid, with the insinuation that Dotcom must have been discussed. An insinuation simply won’t cut the mustard though. As many other commentators have pointed out, Dotcom has built this thing up to the point that anything less than rock solid, incontrovertible evidence that Key has lied, will simply seem like a damp squib.

The pathetic part of this though is watching sections of the Left bank everything on Kim Dotcom’s announcement. Just look at Martyn Bradbury’s post at the Daily Blog, entitled “Why the polls, policy & smears now don’t matter until after 7pm September 15th 2014“:

“Couple of polls out today, Roy Morgan and the stuff.co.nz/Ipsos Polls – and they don’t matter.

John Key could announce tax cuts from a live press conference in Hawaii, and it wouldn’t matter.

David Cunliffe could be mocked on ZB by Mike Hosking for 10 hours straight. And it wouldn’t matter.

All that matters now is 7pm Monday 15th at the Auckland Town Hall.”

If, in Mr Bradbury’s mind, the sole hope for a change in government rests with Kim Dotcom and his “evidence”, then God help Bradbury and his cohorts.


Palino has no chance of becoming Auckland mayor

Over the weekend, John Palino told the Herald on Sunday that he wouldn’t rule out another shot at becoming Auckland mayor. He’ll make the decision in about eighteen months, and see where he’s at. I would presume he’s working on the assumption that Len Brown will bow out (dis)gracefully and that, with no incumbent running, name recognition would get Palino over the line as the centre-right’s man.

I think we can confidently predict though that Mr Palino will not end up casting his hat into the ring, but that should he do so, his campaign will again be that of an also-ran. Last year, Mr Palino ended up as the centre-right candidate almost by default. Len Brown was seen as nigh-on unbeatable, and no strong right wing candidate was prepared to spend the time and money on a campaign that was likely to lose. Maurice Williamson was almost persuaded to go there, in the glow of his post-“Rainbow Speech”, but that conjecture didn’t last long once he ran the numbers on Brown’s prior drubbing of John Banks.

Len Brown, despite his occasional talk of standing for a third term, surely won’t go there. With no incumbent, both the Left and Right will already be scoping out the strongest candidates possible. The two names that keep getting bandied about are Phil Goff and Paul Henry, both of whom have huge name recognition and a considerable existing base of support, political or otherwise.

Mr Palino, on the other hand, is dirty used goods. Cameron Slater’s positively inept attempt to unseat Len Brown post-election ended up doing a hatchet job on Palino’s reputation. There are still outstanding questions about what Mr Palino knew and when, regarding the Bevan Chuang affair, and he seems determined to obfuscate whenever asked. Those are questions that would continue to be raised should Palino decide to try his hand at politics for a second time.

Mr Palino may have had former National Party president, John Slater, as his campaign manager, but it seems that very few other National figures were prepared to go near the campaign. Certainly, after hearing Mr Slater’s plaintive cries that, despite being campaign manager, he wasn’t told anything about what Palino’s more nefarious operatives were up to, any National party support for Palino has long since melted away.

Methinks Mr Palino should perhaps focus his attentions on restaurants and/or reality TV.

Len Brown’s personal gym

The story came out earlier in the week in the NZ Herald that Len Brown had his own personal gym set up, using equipment worth $5,198 that was paid for by ratepayers. At the time, I barely even glanced at it. Firstly, plenty of companies set up in-house gyms for their employees – employee health and well-being is a good thing… Secondly, just over $5,000 worth of gym equipment didn’t sound like a particularly large amount of money. And thirdly, it was a story by Bernard Orsman, who seems to have a personal vendetta against Mr Brown. Another anti-Brown story by Orsman – well, who’d have thought?

However, Rodney Hide highlighted the story this morning, again in the NZ Herald, which got me to actually read the original article properly. Mr Hide goes somewhat over the top (as he tends to do on occasion) by trying to compare the situation to employee theft. However, the major issue is the secrecy and lack of transparency by the Auckland Mayor and his staff.

Let’s look at the email trail.

On 24 November 2010, Phil Wilson (Mr Bown’s chief of staff) emails the council’s sport and recreation manager, Ian Maxwell, asking (in the Herald‘s words) “if there was any possibility of getting used equipment from a council facility or a supplier who could loan or sponsor it”. But here’s the kicker (in Mr Wilson’s exact words):

“The sensitivity, though, is that we don’t want to be seen to be spending any public money on him.” [emphasis added]

That speaks volumes. The Mayor and his staff have no issue with the money being spent. They simply don’t want anyone to find out. Secrecy is key.

Mr Maxwell replies that he would get some equipment, to which Mr Wilson responds with, “The almighty will be very pleased”. Hmm… What more can said to a response like that?

Being a good employee, Mr Maxwell was as good as his word. Brand new equipment was purchased, costing $5,198.85. Did the funds come from Mr Brown’s Mayoral budget? Of course not, as that would have been easily traced. Remember, secrecy is our watchword here. Instead, the money was taken from the fitness renewal budget on a “loan basis”. The Mayor got his equipment, he didn’t have to spend any money on it, it was kept off Mayoral budget books and because it was a “loan” it didn’t have to be declared as a gift!

I have no problem if the Mayor of Auckland wants to blow $5,000 of his personal budget on gym equipment, so that he can maximise his efficiency (although it may be easy for me to say that, given that I’m a ratepayer in Gisborne, rather than Auckland!). What I don’t like is the inherent culture of secrecy and lack of transparency that a story like this exposes. Public funds are not secret slush funds for the political elite.

Why the Standard shouldn’t get too hung up on individual polls – it’s the rolling averages that should be worrying them

The release of the Len Brown poll on Thursday raised some eyebrows, not least because the sample size was only 248 Aucklanders. Of those 248 Aucklanders, only 22.7% said they would vote for Mr Brown in the 2016 elections, while 57.7% said nay.

The issues with the poll were many and varied:

1. Sample size: With only 248 respondents, that’s one hell of a margin of error. The Herald didn’t report the margin of error, but the standard margin of error for that sort of sample size would be just over 6%.

2. Possible issues with weighting: Of those surveyed, 85% said they’d voted in the Auckland Council election, which is interesting, as voter turnout was only 36%. Further, only 37% of those who said they voted, said they voted for Len Brown. That’s despite him getting 47.8% on election day.

Now I don’t believe that responses regarding whether people previously voted or who they previously voted for are really worth much more than a grain of salt. People lie, even when it’s to an anonymous pollster on the phone. We know that voting is a Good Thing, so we don’t like to admit we were slack and never quite got round to posting the damn ballot paper. Likewise, we don’t like admitting we voted for the guy who’s obviously not the flavour of the month. No one likes admitting they voted for someone who now seems to be a bit of a loser.

Nonetheless, the weighting discrepancies in the Len Brown poll seem to be simply too large to just write off as being the result inaccurate provision of data by the respondents.

3. Len Brown v The Imaginary Candidate : It doesn’t often mean much when people are asked to choose between a real person and a generic opposition. In America, for instance, poll results tended to change dramatically in the run-up to the last Presidential election, when the line of questioning went from comparing President Obama to a generic un-named Republican opponent, to comparing Obama to each of the specific likely Republican candidates. Faced with a Republican candidate who was real and flawed – no longer imaginary and perfect – Obama’s stats tended to rocket up.

It’s all very well to ask, “Would you vote for Mr Brown in 2016?” However, those results may change dramatically once the other candidates are known. After all, if either of Mr Palino or Mr Banks threw their names in again as the centre-right candidate, Mr Brown might just scrape back in…

(For the record, I’m not a Len Brown supporter, and I think he should have resigned.)

The Len Brown poll was of course a part of the larger Herald-Digipoll which had delivered such doom and gloom to Labour supporters everywhere. Thus, over at the Standard, they seized upon the notion that the poll was a rogue – if the Auckland figures were so badly skewed, the poll could be safely discounted.

That’s all very well, and it’s undoubtedly nice to be able to sweep the worst poll of the year under the carpet, but Mickey Savage (the author of the Standard post) keeps banging away with the statement, “David Cunliffe has been quoted as saying that Labour’s internal polling is in the mid 30s”. Repetition does not necessarily create truth.

The thing about individual polls which the Standard is quite right about is that they can be wrong. That’s why they have margins of error. Every so often, one comes along that is just plain out-of-whack with everything else. Individual polls bounce up and down. They have statistical noise.

Which is why people should focus on the bigger picture – if we bundle up all of the polls that are coming out, and we create rolling averages and trend lines, what does it show? Polls of Polls, such as are done at Rob Salmond’s Polity, David Farrar’s Curiablog and here, try and minimise the rogue polls and statistical noise.

And that’s where things still don’t look rosy for the Labour party. Regardless of whether the Herald-Digipoll is swept under the carpet,  the average poll data this year has not showed Labour looking even close to being in the mid-30s. Of the 10 major polls released thus far this year, 5 have had Labour under 32%. Only once have they hit 34%, and not once have they crossed that mark. Rob Salmond’s Poll of Polls has them on 32.6% (last updated 24 February 2014), David Farrar has them on 32.7% (last updated 15 February 2014), while I’ve currently got them on 31.7% (last updated yesterday).

Individual polls come and go. But when the polls of polls all put your party at between 31.7% and 32.7%, it’s probably time to worry.