peter dunne

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…

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And John Key didn’t consult either…

Following yesterday’s discovery that there will be no minor party involvement in the oversight of our spy agencies, Andrew Little was castigated for his failure to consult with either the Greens or NZ First regarding his nomination of David Shearer to the Intelligence and Security Committee.

As I wrote yesterday, there is a legal requirement for the Leader of the Opposition to consult with all other opposition party leaders before making a nomination. This puts Labour in the strange position of essentially having to argue that, despite having already announced Shearer’s nomination, consultation can still occur prior to the nomination being officially made. (At present, the nominations aren’t yet official.)

John Key was approached for comment on Little’s decision, but as far as I can see, none of the reporting yesterday focussed on the issue that both Andrew Little and John Key had consultation requirements. Section 7 of the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996 requires the Leader of the Opposition to consult with all other opposition party leaders, but  it also requires the Prime Minister to consult with the leaders of all parties in government.

John Key has confirmed he’ll be nominating National’s Chris Finlayson and Amy Adams. Surely, given that ACT, United Future and the Maori Party all have confidence and supply agreements with National, Mr Key must therefore have consulted with David Seymour, Peter Dunne and Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox before coming to his decision?

Well, Peter Dunne yesterday tweeted:

FWIW no-one has consulted me under either 7(1)(c) or 7(1)(d) [the relevant consultation sections of the Act]

Maybe Mr Key, like Little, intends to get around to “consulting” with the other party leaders prior to the nominations of Finlayson and Adams becoming official.

Nonetheless, if that’s the defence that both major party leaders intend to rely on, it makes a mockery of the duty of consultation. What it shows is that both Key and Little consider the statutory duty of consultation as nothing more than a nuisance; an exercise in ticking boxes before doing precisely what they want.

And we’re supposed to blindly trust them to protect our rights and interests as they oversee the spies…

UPDATE (18/02/15):

Oddly, Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox has confirmed on Twitter that the Maori Party were consulted:

So why was the Maori Party consulted, but Peter Dunne wasn’t? Was ACT?

(Almost) unconditional support : ACT forgets to play its hand

On National Radio’s Morning Report show this morning, ACT leader David Seymour provided an excellent example of how not to negotiate. With Environment and Housing Minister Nick Smith set to announce tomorrow National’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act, Seymour was asked whether he would be supporting the yet-to-be-announced changes.

The response was a clear affirmative. “It is extremely urgent that New Zealand reforms its Resource Management Act…” Therefore, he’s got National’s back on this one.

So what are the reforms? Well, we don’t know. They haven’t yet been announced.

Does Mr Seymour know? Has he been given a pre-announcement heads up, to ensure that his support is based on some actual intel, or is he simply making the assumption that the changes will be identical (or almost identical) to the proposed changes that were abandoned prior to the last election? It’s an assumption, he confirmed on Twitter to me this morning, based on where Mr Smith’s “thinking is usually at”.

To be fair, it isn’t completely unconditional support that is being offered. On Morning Report, Mr Seymour reserved his right to pull back, should the changes, once announced, be materially different from his assumptions.

Of course, we all know that ACT went into the 2014 election promising to repeal the RMA. Here’s a quote from former ACT leader Jamie Whyte during the election campaign:

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.

Nonetheless, from a realpolitik perspective, why would ACT simply blindly agree to support National’s proposed changes? If the changes are essentially what National tried unsuccessfully to push through last year, then National will struggle to get support from Peter Dunne or the Maori Party. If National doesn’t want to water down its proposals, then that leaves just ACT. And given ACT’s hatred of the RMA (except, of course, where it stymies intensive development in Epsom), surely this would be a perfect opportunity to press for additional changes?

With National able, on every piece of legislation, to go to just one of ACT, United Future or the Maori Party, opportunities to extract a pound of flesh aren’t going to come along often for those three minor parties. ACT seems to have just blown a prime opportunity to extract concessions on one of the party’s main election policy platforms.

The minor parties – some thoughts & questions

The Greens

They ran a blinder of a campaign. Their polling numbers were looking great, as they closed on 15% in some polls. Then they got just 10.02% on the night (although their vote share is likely to rise by at least a small amount once the special votes are counted – Graeme Edgeler estimates to 10.5% if they got the same proportion of specials as they did in 2011).

What happened? Is it a voter turnout issue? Did the Greens actually slump abruptly in the final days of the campaign? Or do the polls have a bias towards the Greens?

Going forward, the Greens have some big decisions to make. They’ve loudly declared on many an occasion that they want to supplant Labour as the major party of the Left. So do they try for a more centrist approach to grow their vote? There were elements of such an approach in their policy of personal tax cuts to offset the effects of their planned carbon tax. If they want to supplant Labour, that’s what they’ve got to do, but will their membership allow it?

For much of the last term, the Greens were the de facto opposition in Parliament, with Labour failing to fire. Yet in the build-up to the campaign, the Greens offered to campaign together with Labour. The offer had a dual purpose: to show a Government-in-waiting, and to try to reduce the relevance of Winston Peters. Do the Greens go hammer and tongs for Labour’s vote share, or do the two parties attempt to work together to present a united front of opposition?

NZ First

Winston Peters is getting old. For most of last term, he was an embarrassment, lurching from one badly contrived attack to another, each one failing to fire; a collection of not-so-smoking guns. The campaign itself seemed to have rejuvenated him. He certainly saw off the young pretender, Colin Craig, and raised the NZ First vote in the process.

Is he good for another election campaign or will this have been his swan-song? If this is his final term, he’ll be leaving after a comeback of six years without baubles. Winston likes baubles, no matter what he might publicly say, so does he try again in 2017 in the hope of one final Ministerial stint?

The other thing Winston wants is for NZ First to continue on after he’s gone. It’s always been Winston First – no succession plan, no contrary views allowed. He’d like nothing better than to prove wrong all of those critics who for twenty-one years have said that once Winston goes, so too will NZ First.

Ron Mark is back and is being touted as a possible successor. However, if Andrew Williams’ allegations about deputy-leader Tracey Martin are correct, then woe betide anyone who sees themselves as competition to her right of succession! Life in NZ First could get interesting…

The Conservatives

Colin Craig got played by John Key, strung along for just long enough, before being thrown under the bus. Nonetheless, right up until the final few days, Craig and his party ran a remarkably focussed, relatively gaffe-free campaign. Despite being out-manouevered on occasion by Winston Peters, the Conservatives grew their vote share to just over 4%.

It wasn’t enough to get them in to Parliament, but it wasn’t a bad result on a night when National made over 48%. If Craig can keep his core team together, then they’ll have a good shot at breaking 5% in 2017.

The Maori Party

The critics said they were finished in 2014. With Turia and Sharples retiring, Mana were going to wipe out Te Ururoa Flavell, and the Maori Party would perish. Well, Flavell’s still there, with a relatively comfortable majority, and Mana is no more. And, assuming the special votes don’t do something odd, Flavell’s brought in Marama Fox with him, so it won’t be an entirely lonely three years.

If Flavell wants it, National would probably give him the Maori Affairs portfolio. Key doesn’t need to in order to govern, but he’ll be looking to keep Flavell on-side through to 2017. It’ll give the Maori Party some policy gains and keep Flavell’s profile up, and the party will look to remain competitive in seats like Tamaki Makaurau and Te Tai Hauauru.

Internet Mana

And that took care of that then…

The Internet Party was nothing more than a vehicle for Kim Dotcom’s ego and vengeance, and with Dotcom admitting that his personal brand poisoned the combined Internet Mana vehicle, the Internet Party will soon be no more. Dotcom certainly won’t be pouring his money into it, and there’s no real reason for anyone to stick around. Laila Harre’s pay cheque disappears, along with what’s left of her credibility.

Likewise, with no party leader funding for Hone Harawira, and precious few alternate sources of income, the Mana Movement is dead. Harawira took a gamble, sick of being a one man band in Parliament, and it all turned to custard. Annette Sykes did her best in Waiariki, but still came up well short, despite having a full three year campaign and Dotcom’s cash. It’s over.

ACT

Duncan Garner summed it up best when he described David Seymour as being like a five year old about to start High School. Despite winning Epsom (and by all accounts, Seymour put in the hard yards door-knocking to do so), it’s going to be an awkward and ineffectual three years for ACT. Jamie Whyte remains the leader outside of Parliament (for how long though remains to be seen), with Seymour the fresh-faced novice being the voice inside Parliament. Who do the media go to for comment? No one knows…

How do they rebuild? Lord only knows. Their natural constituency is minuscule, and they hold a seat on National’s whim. It’s not a great basis for growth.

United Future

The writing’s on the wall for Peter Dunne. Despite running against new candidates from both Labour and National, and despite having John Key’s personal blessing, Dunne’s majority is just 930. The only MPs with smaller majorities are Nikki Kaye in Auckland Central (648) and Trevor Mallard in Hutt South (378).

The glory days of United Future are long gone. Once upon a time, the worm turned at Captain Sensible’s whim. Now, the Dunne brand is that of a strange political vampire living out some political half-life.

Rebuilding United Future is a laughable proposition. The only question is whether Dunne goes out on his own terms or waits for the inevitable stake through the heart from the good people of Ohariu.

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.

‘The Nation’ minor party debate – Colin Craig loses, Winston Peters wins

Having spent the weekend in Napier, resolutely not pondering anything political, I got back to Gisborne last night and finally got around to watching The Nation’s minor party leaders’ debate.

Policy-wise, there was nothing to learn. This was a show devoted almost entirely to the spouting of pre-prepared talking points. Here’s my view of how the various leaders performed:

Colin Craig v Winston Peters: This was perhaps the most important clash. Having initially been excluded from the debate lineup, and making an entrance purely because of a High Court injunction, Colin Craig needed to do well to justify his presence. He’d argued in Court that the Conservative Party would be negatively impacted if Winston Peters was given free reign to speak on conservative policy platforms – essentially admitting that the policy platforms of NZ First and the Conservatives are largely identical. Both parties are duking it out for the same pool of voters, and that pool isn’t large enough for both to make it over the 5% threshold.

So who won? In my opinion, it was Peters by a long shot. He wasn’t in particularly hot form, but it was more than enough. Perhaps the defining moment was when moderator Lisa Owen described Mr Craig as Peters’ doppelganger, and asked him to describe why anyone should vote Conservative rather than NZ First. Craig couldn’t come up with a single policy reason. Instead, looking somewhat miffed at the question, he said that the Conservatives were clear that they would work with the party with the most votes, rather than play games a la NZ First. If that’s the Conservative Party’s major point of distinction from NZ First, then it’s game over for Colin Craig.

Winston Peters v Metiria Turei: Given Mr Peters’ long-held antipathy towards the Greens, fireworks were expected between Peters and Turei. As it happened, when Peters was offered the chance to put the boot into the Greens, he declined, instead saying that he gets on with everybody. This was then followed up with, “I get on with everybody who has a reasonable view on a reasonable thing”. What that means is anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt that Peters is happily engaged in his favourite electioneering past-time – keeping everyone guessing.

Colin Craig v Metiria Turei: As a property developer, Colin Craig is not a fan of “green tape” holding up development. Plus, as Winston’s stunt double, it’s only to be expected that Mr Craig would be anti-Greens. Unfortunately, for Mr Craig, Ms Turei owned him. She held tightly to the party line (“National’s pollution economy”), while Craig’s interjections were banal and resulted in perhaps the defining image of the night – Turei haughtily performing a ‘talk to the hand’ in Craig’s direction.

Talk to the hand, Colin. (Thanks to Stephanie Rodgers at Boots Theory for the screenshot.)

Talk to the hand, Colin. (Thanks to Stephanie Rodgers at Boots Theory for the screenshot.)

Te Ururoa Flavell v Hone Harawira: Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Hone Harawira has natural charisma. Te Ururoa Flavell, not so much. With everything at stake for the two party leaders in their respective seats, and with both parties fighting for the same pool of voters, neither could afford to have a bad debate. They both stayed on message, with Harawira banging the drum of Maori inequality, and Flavell emphasising a) the real gains made by the Maori Party due to being at the table, and b) that his party is not a proxy of the National Party. Unfortunately for Flavell, there was no passion to his approach. Harawira had the emotional message and the better soundbites. A win on points for Harawira.

Jamie Whyte v the world: It wasn’t a good debate for Jamie Whyte. He was stilted and amateur. Sure, he had some good lines, accusing others of being “communistic” and “neo-racist”, but you get the feeling that he rather prefers the safety of a lecture theatre, where he can espouse his dry rationality to his heart’s content, free from the indignity of moderators who interrupt, opponents who interject, and people in general who laugh at you while you’re talking.

Peter Dunne v ???: In his role as Captain Sensible, Peter Dunne exists in his own separate space. No one bothers feuding with him, because his strongest held view appears to be that people should be able to decide at what age they begin claiming superannuation. And that’s basically how it played out on The Nation. Dunne was there, but you’d struggle to remember much of what he said, apart from that he wants people to be able to decide at what age they begin claiming superannuation. There was some half-hearted sledging from Winston Peters, when Dunne described the anti-land sales position as “xenophobic”, but Peters didn’t seem to think it was really worth his time to bother directing much bile in Dunne’s direction.

Perhaps the most interesting part of The Nation was the panel discussion between Brook Sabin, Bryce Edwards and Lisa Owen over which leaders should have been part of the debate. Which says a lot about the debate itself…

 

 

United Future’s list

United Future has released it’s party list. Peter Dunne announced the top ten members on the list, despite the list continuing eleven names:

  1. Peter Dunne
  2. Alan Simmons
  3. Damian Light
  4. Sultan Eusoff
  5. Ben Rickard
  6. Jason Woolston
  7. Dave Stonyer
  8. Bryan Mockridge
  9. Ram Parkash
  10. Quentin Todd
  11. James Maxwell

It’s a list that doesn’t really inspire analysis, other than perhaps the obvious question – does the United Future membership contain a single woman?

Nonetheless, one can see from this report where the party hopes to get its votes from, beyond the three-yearly plea from Peter Dunne involving repeated use of the words “sensible” and “common sense”:

United Future has released a party list it believes reflects a strong commitment to outdoor recreation and migrant communities.

All I can say is that you know a party’s candidate base is thin when their number eleven candidate is nineteen years old and described as a “supermarket checkout operator and management trainee”.

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.

Pam Corkery? WTF?

So Pam Corkery has been hired as Laila Harre’s press secretary. Apparently Ms Harre discovered this while on air, which, if true, makes one wonder who’s running things at Internet Party HQ. Certainly, this tweet from Jessica Williams (@mizjwilliams) suggests an air of back room disorganisation:

And then after she got off air, Laila Harre made a phone call and found out that it IS true and pam IS her new press sec. lol.

I guess Ms Corkery’s new role makes sense in a ‘good fit with the leader’ kind of way, both Corkery and Harre being former Alliance Party MPs together, back in the 1990s, before Corkery retired in 1999. And I guess she’s got good media contacts, having been a broadcaster for many more years than she was an MP.

But isn’t the defining feature of the Internet Party’s upcoming election campaign supposed to be that it’s about being tech-savvy and online, pulling in those young, previously disinterested voters who will suddenly flock to the ballot box and support Kim Dotcom’s multimillion dollar vehicle of revenge? Both Laila Harre and Pam Corkery are dinosaurs from another political age. I just cannot see how Corkery’s involvement, especially in an important campaign role, can possibly be of benefit to the Internet Party. She’s the antithesis of the Internet Party’s message.

Of course, press secretaries are not the face of a party. How many people (beyond the very worst political junkies) could name John Key’s or David Cunliffe’s press secretaries, let alone Peter Dunne’s or Jamie Whyte’s? (Mind you, how many people could name Jamie Whyte, let alone his press secretary?) However, the press secretary is supposed to be coordinating Laila Harre’s and the Internet Party’s media image across all media. That includes the internet, which is already an area in which the other party’s press secretaries are failing miserably in (see my good friend Matthew Beveridge’s blog, Social Media & the 2014 Election for a daily account of our political party’s social media failings). Why would another old-school media hack like Pam Corkery be any different?

One would hope that the Internet Party has a highly competent team handling the online side of things, and that Ms Corkery isn’t expected to provide them with too much direction. Otherwise, the party’s goal of going for the so-called “Missing Million” online isn’t going to gather a great deal of steam.

Frankly, I think that Laila Harre’s appointment has already put paid to that goal. The Internet Party needed a Richard Branson, not someone intent on creating the Alliance Party Reborn.

Legal high knee-jerking: Deconstructing the angst

Well, after three weeks of almost-daily pressure from Campbell Live, the government has finally folded and announced the imminent removal of legal highs from the shelves. All interim approvals will be cancelled.

However, the government (and indeed the opposition, since every MP but John Banks voted for the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013) got almost exactly what it had wanted from the new legislation – the number of products on shelves was cut dramatically; the number of outlets stocking legal highs dropped by 95%; and according to the Ministry of Health anecdotal reports demonstrate “the number of severe presentations to emergency departments [due to problems with psychoactive substances] has reduced since the Act came in” (see Tim Watkins’ Pundit post). As far as I can see, the law was and is working precisely as Parliament intended.

So why has this knee-jerk policy announcement happened? Let’s look at some of the culprits.

1. The ever-pervasive laws of supply and demand: As Parliament intended, the number of shops stocking legal highs was slashed. The demand for the product was not. Therefore, the buyers of legal highs, once spread thinly across a far greater number of suppliers, now congregate at a select few supply locations. What was once a largely unseen trade has now become extremely visible, with queues forming down streets in a number of locations. The public has suddenly gone from blissful ignorance to a state of squalid knowledge.

2. Local councils: As Peter Dunne has hammered endlessly in almost every interview for past three weeks, Parliament gave local councils exactly what they had asked for, namely, the ability to pass local plans regulating where legal highs could be sold (just as occurs with the sale of alcohol). Only Hamilton and Hastings councils passed such plans. The remainder, such as the southern mayors, simply whinged about the government passing the problem on to them.

(Admittedly, having the councils relegate the sale of legal highs to just one or two locations would only intensify the public perception problem at those few locations. And a de facto ban, which is essentially what Hamilton and Hastings had put in place, simply results in a black market, creating its own brand of problems.)

3. The government: The approval regime for testing proposed products and ensuring they are low risk was not due to be announced until 2015. How long does it take to set up a testing framework and clarify what is low risk? While in the meantime, the more the moral panic grows…

4. Parliament and partisan politics: Despite voting for the Act just last year, the moral panic has been such that Labour have been unable to resist putting the boot into the government, secretly preparing a bill to overturn the interim approvals. Unfortunately for Labour, their plans were leaked and Peter Dunne announced the government’s plan to overturn the interim approvals one day ahead of Labour. Peter Dunne says that Cabinet gave the green light to the government’s bill two weeks ago, but that he was planning to hold off on making any public announcements “to prevent panic-buying and stockpiling”.

Despite Dunne admitting that his early announcement was political, he sanctimoniously stated:

“The consequence is going to be there will be a period now of binge-buying over the next couple of weeks and they [Labour] have to bear the responsibility for that.”

No, Mr Dunne – you made the call to announce your bill weeks early, for your political purposes. The responsibility is yours.

If Dunne really cared about the issues of binge-buying and stockpiling, he would have picked up the phone to the Labour party weeks ago and come to a bipartisan accord. After all, did he really think that Labour wouldn’t have been preparing some anti-government lines of attack on the issue, with an election fast approaching? Instead, here’s Dunne’s response on Twitter to Labour’s Iain Lees-Galloway, who had been criticising Dunne for not picking up the phone to Labour:

“and do you really think the government would have given you a victory on this?”

If National, Labour and Dunne had worked together on this issue, a number of harms could have been ameliorated. A pity Dunne couldn’t resist the allure of egotism and grandstanding, as opposed to principle.

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