Phil Goff

Labour supports 24 hr surveillance : the unenviable job of being in opposition

This week, the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee reported back on the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill. The Government had been seeking, among other things, the ability of the SIS to undertake 48 hour warrantless surveillance, and for the Government to revoke passports for three years.

Quite why these measures were required were never addressed. After all, our terror threat level may have raised, but it remains on ‘low’. MPs such as Jamie-Lee Ross muttered darkly of tales of terror disclosed by the SIS: if we meek citizens only knew what the MPs knew, we would quake in our boots and immediately provide ringing endorsements of the Government’s planned changes. Of course, we mere citizens weren’t allowed to know. The SIS’s briefing was conducted in secret, open only to MPs, on the grounds of protecting national security.

The SIS’s briefing may have persuaded Mr Ross, but the opposition appeared rather less convinced. Labour MPs such as leader Andrew Little, Phil Goff and David Shearer held the line that the Government had failed to make a case for the increased powers, and one doesn’t have to be a genius to know that the Greens were never going to be convinced.

Nonetheless, the Committee has reported back, and Labour now backs warrantless surveillance, albeit for a maximum of 24 hours and only in relation to terrorist activity (as opposed to the SIS’s wider activities). In addition to that concession, the Government has also agreed to stricter oversight and more frequent reporting, in relation to the use of warrantless surveillance, and those individuals who have their passport revoked will have the ability to appeal that decision and apply for their passport back.

To my mind, 24 hours less warrantless surveillance isn’t a huge concession. Warrantless surveillance is still warrantless surveillance, and the Government has still failed to make the case as to why it’s necessary. After all, in emergency situations involving terrorism, s10 of the International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act 1987 provides the ability for police to intercept private communications and interfere with the operation of any part of the telecommunications system in the area in which the emergency is occurring. For powers above and beyond that, which may heavily impinge on the rights of certain individuals, a proper case should be made as to why those powers are necessary.

By rights, I should be lambasting Labour for abandoning its principled approach and supporting warrantless surveillance. On the other hand, however, the Government had the numbers to pass the Bill in its initial form. Labour could have voted against it and achieved nothing. The Government wanted a vaguely bipartisan outcome, meaning that small concessions were achieved. That’s the unenviable job of being in opposition: Do you stick to your guns, opposing to the death for no reward, or do you give support on some issues, taking what gains you can in order to make the end legislation a slightly better beast?

Labour will have made the call that few New Zealanders really care about the issues of warrantless surveillance or revocation of passports. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, etc. Labour gets a positive headline or two for at least forcing a few changes; National gets its positive headlines for being bipartisan.

Everyone wins, except our civil rights.

And, as No Right Turn points out, this piece of legislation is just the beginning, with John Key already stating that the Government will look to further toughen security laws after a review next year. With Labour now on record supporting the thin end of the wedge, what will our major opposition party agree to next time round?

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.

Death by a thousand cuts for Cunliffe

When Stuart Nash called for David Cunliffe to immediately face a confidence vote in caucus, he was inadvertently playing into Cunliffe’s hands. Cunliffe knows when a confidence vote is held, he’ll lose. He has no hope of getting 60% plus one MP to side with him. His best chance of remaining leader is to lose the confidence vote early, and square off against his challenger(s) before the members and unions who put him there desert him.

Unfortunately for David Cunliffe, his caucus enemies are well aware of that. MPs such as David Shearer and Phil Goff have made it clear that they’ll be pushing for a delayed confidence vote. They want the results of a full review of the election campaign to be published before any vote. They’re hoping that the build up to the review (involving, presumably, a few anti-Cunliffe leaks), and the review itself, will be enough to destroy Cunliffe’s support base – death by a thousand cuts, if you will.

At the time of publishing this post, the Labour Party MPs had just left their meeting room after a marathon seven hour extravaganza of a post-election caucus meeting. As Cunliffe entered, he told reporters, “We must stop the leaks, we must stop the infighting.” It was a clear message to the caucus to keep their lips sealed. Which didn’t stop David Shearer, Phil Goff, Damien O’Connor and Clayton Cosgrove from talking to reporters on their way in, minutes later, making it obvious where the anti-Cunliffe knives will be coming from. Shearer was openly combative:

“What I don’t feel is that I should be silent when we need to be acknowledging our defeat. I’ve got skin in the game here. For two of the last three years I was the leader and all I am doing is speaking very candidly about the way we should go forward which is to own our defeat and move forward on that basis.”

And here’s Damien O’Connor on Labour’s primary-style method of choosing its leader:

“I think the last one we had didn’t necessarily deliver the best outcome.”

Not exactly a subtle attack on Cunliffe.

In terms of death by a thousand cuts scenario, the NZ Herald is reporting that Labour MPs will be demanding that Cunliffe release to them the internal polling results on Cunliffe’s popularity. Apparently the results won’t look good for him. And if Cunliffe expects that the results will remain secret once released to the full caucus, well, he’s dreaming.

With a caucus of just 32, when the confidence vote arrives Cunliffe needs the support of at least thirteen MPs in order to triumph at the first hurdle. His opponents need twenty votes to trigger a contested ballot. With Shearer, Goff, Robertson, Parker, O’Connor, Cosgrove, Nash and Davis already having lined up in opposition, the anti-Cunliffe camp is well over a third of the way there. It’s hard to believe that Labour’s terrible result, followed by Cunliffe’s astonishingly badly timed “concession” speech and election night letter to supporters seeking a new mandate to continue as leader, hasn’t already got at least twelve more MPs sharpening their knives.

Now they just need to poison the members and unions against him and the job is done. Cunliffe certainly isn’t helped by people like former party president Mike Williams appearing on National Radio’s Nine to Noon show yesterday to say that he wouldn’t go with Cunliffe again:

“I’ve always thought that there were three elements to a campaign – there’s organisation, there’s policy and there’s leadership. I think the organisation was certainly better than last time – I saw a lot more activity on the ground. I think that the policy was relatively bulletproof and I don’t think the National party scored any particular points off that. That really only leaves leadership.

“Personally at the moment I don’t think I’d go with David Cunliffe again – this is a historic defeat, it’s the worst Labour vote since 1922 – I think there are people in the wings who could potentially do a better job.”

I’d have to say, I think Cunliffe is toast, no matter when the confidence vote is held. I find it difficult to believe that he’ll pull nearly as many membership votes as he did last time, and his percentage of caucus support will be further reduced. Nonetheless, leaving the vote till after the campaign review will make doubly sure of Cunliffe’s demise.

And National rubs its hands with glee…

UPDATE (with edit as to numbers needed to force a ballot):

And there’s no immediate confidence vote, as expected.

Plus 3News reporting that Jacinda Ardern isn’t ruling out a leadership bid, albeit “reluctantly”. That’s nine public declarations of no confidence…

On a wave of mutilation : where to now for Labour?

2014 was a disaster. Unfortunately for Labour, the disaster has now been surpassed. The party will be beginning (another) process of determining what went wrong, and what can be done to fix things.

I hope they don’t throw all of their policy out with the bathwater. Some parts, like their intended nationalisation of the electricity market, were a dog and should be dispensed of, but in areas such monetary policy, the retirement age and a Capital Gains Tax, they should be looking to refine their policy rather than engage in wholesale change. In the provinces, their regional fund to partner with councils on the building of important infrastructure was a good idea.

What Labour most need to do now is work on its stability. As I’ve already written:

[F]or almost three years (and another three before that, if you include the Goff years), Labour has presented itself as a chaotic pack of self-absorbed in-fighters, too busy playing identity politics and sticking the knife into opposing factions to give a damn about Middle New Zealand. Labour may have stayed on message with grim determination during the actual campaign, but by then it’s a bit late. Staying on message for six weeks cannot outweigh more than two and a half years of self-mutiliation. The public had already made up its collective mind that Labour were a pack of muppets.

Labour needs three years of the discipline they showed during the campaign. They need the public to view them once again as competent. And that means they need to sort out their leadership situation. Cunliffe was busy white-anting Shearer while Shearer was leader, then damn near half of the Labour caucus spent the last year white-anting Cunliffe. Whoever ends up leading Labour needs the support of caucus. Otherwise the Left can look forward to a fourth straight loss in a row.

So, on the leadership question, can Cunliffe stay on as leader? He didn’t perform badly, but (debates aside) he didn’t perform well either. He’s a seasoned campaigner, but given the chance to do it as leader, he blew it. He was hazy on policy detail. The media were scathing of the disorganisation of his day-to-day campaign, whereas Key’s by contrast ticked along like clockwork, ruthlessly efficient.

For the good of the party, Cunliffe should put aside his personal ambition to be Prime Minister, and resign. He was hated by half of his colleagues even before he became leader. He lost the caucus vote in the leadership primary, and was installed by the members and unions against the wishes of the Parliamentary wing of the party. Now it’ll be even worse. He’s lost allies amongst those MPs who failed to make it back in off the list, and in their place he now has to put up with Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash, who certainly aren’t Cunliffe supporters.

Cunliffe has already said he’ll put his leadership up for a vote before Christmas. He will be challenged and he won’t win the caucus vote. If the members and unions put him back in again, Labour can look forward to another three years of disfunction, as Cunliffe’s colleagues stab him in the back with monotonous regularity.

The party needs someone that the whole party can unite behind. The question then becomes who? But it sure as hell isn’t Cunliffe.

John Key lied? Still no smoking gun.

In recent days, John Key has been extensively questioned on what he or his office knew about Cameron Slater’s OIA request to the SIS. He’s steadfastly maintained that although his office was likely informed about the release of the documents to Slater, he himself wasn’t told.

New documents have today been released which muddy the water. In particular, NewstalkZB’s Felix Marwick has released correspondence from SIS Director Warren Tucker, in which Tucker refers to advising “the Prime Minister”, rather the Prime Minister’s office.

Letter from Dr Warren Tucker to Felix Marwick.

Letter from Dr Warren Tucker to Felix Marwick.

The letter states:

“I notified the Prime Minister (in accordance with my usual practice to keep the Minister informed on a “no surprises” basis) that I was going to release unredacted documents in response to the request from Mr Slater. I advised the Prime Minister that I had received legal advice that there were no grounds for withholding the information given the public disclosures already made about the existence and some of the content of the briefing. I informed the Prime Minister that I had informed Mr Goff of my decision to release the information.”

Further, another letter to Mr Marwick dated 31 October 2011, from Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem, refers to a conversation Dame Wakem had with Tucker, in which Tucker told her “that he is prepared to release a statement regarding his discussion with the Prime Minister”.

Which sounds like it should be game, set and match. The Director of the SIS says he briefed the Prime MInister, and the Prime Minister says he didn’t. Who do you believe?

Except that it’s not game, set and match. Dr Tucker this morning then released a statement backing John Key’s version of events, essentially admitting that when he wrote “Prime Minister” he in fact meant “Prime Minister’s office”. Whether such a turn of phrase – “PM” as shorthand for “PM’s office” – is normal practice for Dr Tucker, I have no idea. Nonetheless, Tucker is in Mr Key’s camp regarding who was briefed.

Over at The Standard, Anthony R0bins posts “Key lied – The smoking gun“, based on John Key having said on Q+A on 24 July 2011:

“Phil Goff was briefed, yeah, that’s right. I personally didn’t brief him, but my understanding from the director of SIS, Warren Tucker, is that he was briefed and he was shown the same note and report that I saw.”

To me, that’s a long way from being a smoking gun. Key seems to be referring to the fact that both he and Goff were briefed by Tucker about the Israeli spy story, not to any later briefing by Tucker regarding Goff.

Four major sets of questions remain to be cleared up, in relation to this whole issue:

  • Firstly, who tipped off Cameron Slater that he should make his OIA request?
  • Secondly, was Slater’s request expedited by someone in the SIS, and if so, by whom?
  • Tthirdly, why was Slater’s request promptly answered, while other media outlets’ OIA requests denied or delayed? and
  • Lastly, who in the Prime Minister’s office did Dr Tucker brief, and why did they not pass the information on to John Key?

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn, is now investigating the SIS’s handling of Slater’s OIA request, but there’s unlikely to be an outcome prior to the election.

As to the role of John Key’s office, one thing has been cleared up. Key has confirmed today that the staff member who was briefed by Dr Tucker was not Jason Ede. Of course, that doesn’t clear up the issue of why Key wasn’t informed by the staff member that a politically sensitive OIA request was going to be actioned.

And of course there’s the question of who tipped off Slater? Although most suspicion is falling on the Prime Minister’s office, given Slater’s relationship with Ede, the tip to Slater could well have come from the SIS itself. Phil Goff had been impugning the honesty of the SIS’s director; it’s not inconceivable that someone down the chain of command took it upon themselves to exact vengeance via Slater and his Whaleoil blog.

Key’s farcical “Don’t ask, don’t tell” routine

John Key is sticking to his defensive strategy: deny everything, label Hager’s book a smear campaign, and – when pressed on specific allegations – say he doesn’t know the details. There is of course a very easy way for Mr Key to become acquainted with the details, which he doesn’t seem keen to do, and that’s to simply ask the right people.

For instance, there’s the issue of how classified SIS documents were suddenly declassified and released at break-neck speed to Cameron Slater, following his OIA request. Now, according to John Key this morning on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, Key had no knowledge that the SIS had released the documents. That’s despite Key being the Minister responsible for the SIS. And that’s despite there being some considerable political interest in the contents of the documents – after all, they made Phil Goff look like a fool, a liar or a lying fool, depending on your political allegiance.

Matthew Hooton, on Nine to Noon this morning, made the point that it is “preposterous” that Warren Tucker, as director of the SIS, would release such politically sensitive documents without first alerting the Minister, John Key. Under the ‘no surprises’ rule, I’d count releasing documents showing the leader of the opposition misled the public (whether accidentally or otherwise) as a bit of a surprise.

Nonetheless, John Key says he didn’t know, which means (taking him at his word) that either Mr Tucker made this unilateral decision or that Mr Tucker received a thumbs up from someone in Mr Key’s office who then didn’t pass that information on to Key.

So surely, all Mr Key needs to do, to clear everything up, is to ask Mr Tucker what precisely happened. Was the decision to declassify and release purely that of Mr Tucker’s? If so, why? And if Mr Tucker said he had in fact briefed someone in the Prime Minister’s office, who was that person?

Then there’s the issue of Judith Collins, and what she may or may not have leaked to Cameron Slater. Mr Key says he can’t really comment on any of that as he hasn’t asked Ms Collins about it. Nonetheless, there’s a serious allegation that Mr Hager has made. Hager alleges Collins leaked the Bronwyn Pullar letter to Slater. Collins is on record, both inside and out of the House, completely denying that she or her office had anything to do with the leak. If Hager is correct, Collins lied to Parliament and the New Zealand public. Surely that’s something Mr Key would at least want to ask Ms Collins personally?

Or the five word email by Ms Collins to Cameron Slater, in which she provides the name and title of Simon Pleasants, a former Labour staffer, who is promptly, viciously and wrongly smeared by Slater. Collins refuses to say what her email was in response to, and John Key says he has no idea either. Well, all he has to do is ask Collins what question from Cameron Slater she was replying to.

And then there’s the issue of the National Party staff member who downloaded the Labour Party’s database. John Key has confirmed that Jason Ede definitely accessed the database. He’s said, “Jason became aware of that [that Labour’s database was open to the public], and he did go and have a look”. But there’s no confirmation that Ede downloaded the database. Given that Ede still works for the National Party, one would think it should be a relatively simple matter for Key’s office to ask Ede exactly what he did or didn’t do.

Or the other National Party IP address that accessed the database? Peter Goodfellow, the Party President, has confirmed that another staff member rummaged around – just to check that National’s security wasn’t that bad, don’t you know? Who was that staff member and what, if anything, did they download? Mr Goodfellow already seems to know a great deal on the subject, so it shouldn’t be a great inconvenience to Key to call up the President and swap notes…

Those are just a selection of the questions to which Mr Key could presumably get quite easy answers, should he so desire. I could keep going, but you surely get the point.

This is cynical politics from Mr Key, and it’s an utter farce. He and National want the story to die down, so Key is steering well clear of specifics. If he doesn’t ask, he doesn’t know. And if he doesn’t know, he can’t answer the media’s questions. Everything peters out, and the media finally get around to reporting on policy.

However, Mr Key has, I believe, miscalculated badly. The media aren’t going to simply give up on this. The number of very specific questions that need answering are too many. The number of grubby little dots that need joining won’t suddenly disappear. And with Mr Hager’s alleged source beginning a piece by piece dump of the original emails via the @whaledump Twitter address, the journalistic interest will definitely not die.

Whether the wider public gives a damn is of course a different story. The four people with whom I raised it at Court this morning simply rolled their eyes and muttered derogatory comments about Nicky Hager. And these are intelligent, well-read people who I would generally respect.

John Key is perhaps hoping that the public don’t care now, and as long as nothing definitive comes out to link Key directly to the scandal, the public will continue to not care. Time will tell whether he’s right…

Dirty Politics – sunlight is the best disinfectant

Well, there’s only one political story today – Nicky Hager’s new book, Dirty Politics: How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment. And it’ll likely be the only political story for a wee while yet, as journalists digest the full range of allegations and try and pin John Key down on what he knew about what his office was up to.

I haven’t yet read Dirty Politics (although it’s definitely on my reading list, once I obtain a copy). I only know what’s been reported and debated online. (For a useful synopsis, check out Danyl Mclauchlan’s post at The Dim-Post.

There are a few allegations that seem to have captured the attention of the commentariat:

  • That Cameron Slater and Jason Ede accessed the Labour Party’s computers in 2011, in the lead-up to the election.
  • That the Prime Minister’s office, through Jason Ede, used classified SIS documents to damage a political enemy, Phil Goff, by de-classifying them and telling Cameron Slater to OIA them.
  • That Cameron Slater and political strategist Simon Lusk blackmailed Rodney Hide into resigning as leader of the ACT party.
  • That Judith Collins, when she was Minister of Corrections, arranged to have a prisoner transferred at Cameron Slater’s request.
  • That Cameron Slater is paid around $6,500 per month from a tobacco lobbyist, Carrick Graham, to publish pro-tobacco, pro-alcohol attack posts. Those posts are written by Mr Graham, and are published under Slater’s by-line without attribution.

Yes, everyone knows that politics is a dirty business. Political parties dig for dirt on their opponents (remember Mike Williams’ flight to Australia to find non-existent dirt on John Key?). Nonetheless, if the allegations are correct, there’s some seriously disturbing stuff taking place on the ninth floor of the Beehive. It’s taking negative campaigning to a new level. It’s a systemic abuse of power.

How much of Hager’s claims are based on incontrovertible documentary evidence, and how much on tenuously joined dots remains to be seen. Matthew Hooton has come out this morning and labelled as flat-out wrong and a lie an allegation that he arranged for a liquor company to sponsor David Farrar and Slater.

It’s worth noting that Slater has responded to some of the allegations against him, in his post “The three biggest lies of Hager’s book“. Firstly, he disputes that Labour’s computer system was hacked (which I’ll discuss in a separate post), and secondly:

The second big lie is that PM and/or the PM’s office told me about Phil Goff’s briefing from the SIS. They did not.  

I wrote my own OIA and boy did I get pressure to pull my OIA. Pressure came from very senior people to actually withdraw my OIA, very serious pressure…mostly by phone. I was told it wouldn’t do the Nats any favours.

I resisted that and basically told them to piss off, I was entitled to ask an OIA and I did, proving that Phil Goff lied about his briefing.

I’ll be interested to read Hager’s evidence to the contrary.

Certainly, I’m amused that thus far there’s no denial from Slater that he takes money from a tobacco lobbyist to run PR attack lines. As Mr Slater is fond of saying, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”. Indeed…

But will the current furore result in any change in the polls? It’s hard to say. If John Key can distance himself from everything, there may not be much of an impact. Broadcasters such as Sean Plunket and Mike Hosking are busily running the line that there’s nothing to see here that no one didn’t already know. 

“Nicky Hager taking the moral high ground is nauseating.”

That’s a text message I received this morning from a swing voter. They’re not going to read Dirty Politics, and they undoubtedly assume that whatever National is alleged to have done, Labour will also have done. They just don’t care, and that’s a depressing thought…

Claudette Hauiti doesn’t wait for a third strike

National Party list MP Claudette Hauiti has this morning announced her retirement from politics. It’s safe to say that since she came in to Parliament as Aaron Gilmore’s replacement, back in May last year, her career as a backbench MP has been somewhat less than stellar. Her sole headlines have been negative – employing her wife in contravention of Parliament’s rules, and misusing her Parliamentary charge card.

Her recent appearance on Backbenchers was laughably bad, especially in comparison to her fellow guests, the seasoned Phil Goff and the ever-ebulient Gareth Hughes. On the subject of the Greens’ Clean Rivers policy, all she could offer was a repeated mantra that the Greens’ would not be consulting and liaising enough with Maori on the policy; it was a line that ignored the question of whether National believes our river quality is adequate, that ignored the question of why National’s policy would produce better results than the Greens’, that ignored the issues altogether. She was out of her depth, and it showed.

I thought at the time of her Backbenchers appearance that Ms Hauiti was symptomatic of National’s electoral success. It’s hard finding sufficiently high-calibre candidates to fill a list of 40, let alone the 75 that National went with in 2011. When a party gets damn near to 60 MPs, with the addition of a selection of mid-term retirements, people start arriving in Parliament that the party might well wish were not. That certainly seems true of Claudette Hauiti, who went into the 2011 election as number 63 on National’s list.

So why is she bowing out now, less than two months before election day? Presumably, she’s been given advance warning that her list ranking position was going to be dreadful (National is just days away from releasing their list). One can only assume that not only was she was going to be dead last among National’s sitting MPs, but that a fair few new candidates would be leap-frogging her. It’s the party’s way of saying “You’re not wanted”, and she’s evidently bitten the bullet.

It remains to be seen whether National quickly reopen nominations for the new seat of Kelston, where Hauiti has been selected to stand, or whether she continues to run a campaign there, safe in the knowledge that she will lose to Carmel Sepuloni.

UPDATE 22/07/14 @ 1.50pm:

National Party President Peter Goodfellow has confirmed that the party will re-open nominations for Kelston tomorrow, with nominations closing on 30 July.

And Stuff.co.nz further reports that:

It is understood Hauiti reached her decision after Prime Minister John Key phoned her last night.

It is believed he would have reiterated what others had been telling her, that there was no future for her in National and that she had come to be seen as a liability.

Death by a thousand ill-disciplined cuts

At a time when the Prime Minister is spending the two week school holidays in Hawaii, it might seem a little odd for the leader of opposition to be savaged for spending three days skiing in Queenstown with his family. Nonetheless, Labour’s polling has recently been consistently under 30%, while National of late has seldom been below 50%.

And thus Stuff.co.nz published an article in which a “party source” delivers a few choice quotes about David Cunliffe’s work ethic:

“A lot of MPs are really f….. off about it,” the insider said.

“They are all working hard up and down the country, and f…… Cunliffe is on holiday. Guys like [Phil] Goff and [Annette] King and [David] Shearer, these guys really want it badly and they are working like their lives depend on it. And I think they are a little incredulous about what the guy is doing.”

And:

“It sounds a little treasonous, but the guy doesn’t want it badly enough. If he did, he would be working. I think it is disgraceful behaviour, and not the sort of behaviour becoming of a guy who wants to be prime minister.

“We will be having a talk to David at caucus about his work ethic on Tuesday. We’ll be letting him know he’s got two months to turn this around, and we’re backing him and right behind him but he’s got to lift his game.”

As a deliberate hatchet job, it’s a beauty. Terrible weekend press coverage results, plus the story drags into next week as Cunliffe faces a line of questioning about whether he’s got the full support of his MPs and whether they confronted him about his holiday.

For Cunliffe, it feeds into a vicious circle. Labour needs to show some discipline to get its poll results up, but until its poll results climb there’ll be ongoing ill-disciplined white-anting of the leader by some of the party’s MPs.

So why this particular attack?

The insider believed up to 20 of the 33 Labour MPs were deeply unhappy with Cunliffe’s leadership, but had accepted that an attempt to dump him this late in the term would backfire.

The above quote from the Stuff.co.nz story might just hold a clue. Cunliffe has stated that he intends to stay on as leader, whether Labour loses or not. His caucus has no time left to roll him before the election, and he’s not going to go easily after the election. The test therefore for Cunliffe is whether he can increase Labour’s party vote from its 2011 level. If he increases the vote, he’s got an arguable case to remain as leader, at least in the eyes of the unions and membership; if Labour drops below their abysmal 2011 result, he’ll surely have to wave the white flag and depart.

Is someone from Labour’s ABC camp with a safe electorate seat working to keep Labour’s polling in the low- to mid-twenties, just to make sure Cunliffe goes? Hmm… It sounds ridiculous, but the problem with Labour’s Parliamentary team these days is that you just never know…

Labour wrestles with Te Tai Tokerau

What does Labour in Te Tai Tokerau? Does it give Kelvin Davis carte blanche to go for Hone Harawira’s throat? If he succeeds, Harawira, the Mana Party and the Internet Mana Party all bite the dust, but at the risk of losing vital left-bloc votes. Or does Labour rein Mr Davis in, grit its teeth and (assuming they’ve got the opportunity after 20 September) get used to the prospect of having to work with Harawira, Harre and Sykes et al?

Whatever it decides to do, it needs to make the decision quickly, as the anti-“coat-tailing” dissension in Labour’s ranks is looking messy.

As was to be expected, Kelvin Davis was first out of the ranks to attack Hone Harawira on Radio NZ – unsurprising, given that Davis wants Harawira’s seat, and Harawira had just provided Davis with a very big stick to hit him with.

Then came Chris Hipkins’ tweet:

The good old days, when political parties formed from movements. Now all it takes is a couple of million and some unprincipled sellouts.

And Phil Goff chimed in on Facebook with:

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Not to be out-done, Chris Hipkins lurched back into the fray with:

I’m out the [sic] campaigning for Labour to win the election, not steal it through the type of dodgy deals we’ve rightly criticized National for.

When you’ve riled Chris Trotter up enough for him to write a blog post entitled “Authoritarian Labour: Why Kelvin Davis Needs To STFU – Right Now!“, you know that a little dose of party discipline is required.

The problem Labour has is that David Cunliffe has hardly made it clear what the party’s position should be. When he was first interviewed on Radio NZ, just after the Internet Mana deal was announced, Cunliffe’s position was that Labour was aiming for a clean sweep of the Maori seats. However, his language was hedged – he wasn’t announcing a full-scale assault on Te Tai Tokerau, but he also didn’t want to be seen to be simply abandoning the seat to Harawira.

Since then, the rumours from unnamed sources within Labour have been that the party will tell Kelvin Davis to pull his punches, but there will be no public announcement that Te Tai Tokerau voters should support Harawira – an Epsom-style “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” situation, if you like. Besides, having been so vociferously opposed to the deals that National has done with ACT and United Future (and may very well do with the Conservatives), Labour can hardly now turn around and openly endorse such a deal with the Internet Mana Party.

Nonetheless, Labour needs to decide quickly whether it gives Harawira a tacit endorsement or whether it decides to try and take him out. And the Labour caucus needs to know what that decision is, so that a coherent party line can be followed. In Andrea Vance’s latest article on the subject, she writes that, “A spokesman for Labour said Cunliffe was “off the grid” and not available for comment”. That’s terrible political management from Labour. Cunliffe looks like he doesn’t have a clue about what he should say or do on the issue, which just gives Davis, Hipkins and Goff licence to say or type whatever comes into their minds.