Rob Salmond

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…

Labour’s Prefu SNAFU

When National opened the books ahead of the election with the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update (Prefu), the projected surplus for 2014/15 fell from $372 million to $297 million. In a way, the decrease in the projected surplus was an electoral bonus for National. John Key and Bill English have been painting National as sound fiscal managers, while accusing Labour of spending projected surpluses before they’ve been achieved. The Prefu’s decrease in the 2014/15 surplus allowed National to keep their budget halo intact (“We’re still achieving a surplus as promised!”), while being able to warn that conditions were not so rosy as to allow Labour’s proposed spending increases.

David Parker’s mantra has been that all Labour’s policies were fully costed. He and Cunliffe have been desperate to appear just as fiscally responsible as National, such that Labour (and indeed even the Greens!) were boasting that they would in fact be paying down Government debt faster than National.

Well, the worsening outlook seems to have caught Labour well and truly by surprise, and the fiscal responsibility mantra has thrown the party’s policy schedule into disarray, with $300 million in spending needing to be cut. Labour were to have unveiled seven more policies; six have now been dumped. You have to wonder how the party intends to fill the sudden holes in their campaign schedule, while the Greens are meanwhile gloating that that was why they delayed the release of their plan until after the Prefu.

Just two weeks ago, Labour was promising free doctors’ visits and prescriptions for pensioners. That policy would now be delayed by six months, but it’s a policy that may well come back to bite Labour where it hurts. The policy was lambasted by many on both sides of the political spectrum as being a blatant election bribe to a group that was least in need, given that retirees are just a tiny proportion of those that put off doctors’ visits and/or prescriptions due to unaffordability. When the money was there, the policy could be spun by someone like Rob Salmond as possibly being The Right Thing To Do, but the justifications fade when other policies are being dumped due to lack of funds. It’s bribery, pure and simple, and I’m not sure that even the bribe’s targets, the elderly, are going to get behind the policy.

Since the resignation of Helen Clark as Labour Party leader, SNAFU (situation normal: all fucked up) has been a rather accurate descriptor of the party. Just when they were starting to look on top of things – with uncharacteristically high levels of internal discipline, policy being rolled out, and National on the back foot – along comes the Prefu to return things to Situation Normal.

Will National drop 6% in three months? A less than serious analysis…

Rob Salmond at Polity notes that in the 2008 and 2011 election campaigns, National has dropped 6% in the three month campaign window. His analysis is fairly simple:

All I did was find any published poll where the field dates included the day three months before election day, then compared that to the final election result.

On this analysis, Mr Salmond finds that in 2008, National went from an average of 51% on 8 August to an election result of 44.9% (a drop of 6.1%), while in 2011 National dropped from an average of 53.1% on 26 August to an election result of 47.3% (a 5.8% decrease).

So what would we get if we use Mr Salmond’s analysis on this current election cycle? The election will be held on 20 September 2014, so we take all polls where the field dates include 20 June 2014. That’s just two polls – the 3News Reid Research poll that put National at 49.7%, and the last Roy Morgan poll that had National on 48%. That’s an average of 48.9%, meaning Mr Salmond would expect to see National drop to about 43%.

But wait! Mr Salmond notes that for his 2008 election analysis, he made “one one-day exception to get the 2008 N up” from two polls to three. That meant he included a Colmar Brunton poll that spanned 9 to 14 August, one day outside the three month date of 8 August. Including that poll made no difference to the result, as the Colmar Brunton result was 51%, exactly in the middle of the other two polls.

If we apply the 2008 “one-day exception” to 2014, we also get to include the last Colmar Brunton poll, which put National on 50%. The average of the three polls therefore increases slightly to 49.2%.

Of course, the issue with this sort of analysis is the tiny data set used. In each election year, the analysis is based on just three polls. If there’s an outlier poll in the data set, it will skew the average.

So does Mr Salmond’s analysis include any outliers? Well, in both the 2008 and 2011 data sets there’s a poll from Fairfax. Fairfax’s final poll prior to the 2005, 2008 and 2011 put National, in every one of those three elections, well higher than any other polling company’s final poll. And in between elections, Fairfax tends to have National polling almost 2% higher than the industry average.

So how high did Fairfax put National three months out from the 2008 and 2011 elections? In 2008, they had National at 54% – that’s 3% higher than the Colmar Brunton poll and 6% higher than the Roy Morgan. In 2011, they had National at a staggering 57.1% – over 5% higher than the other two polls which both had National on 52%.

Eradicate the Fairfax outliers from Mr Salmond’s analysis and the 2008 average drops to 49.5%, while the 2011 average drops to 52%. That’s a three month fall of 4.6% in 2008 and 4.7% in 2011.

Eradicate the outliers and the “one-day exception” and there’s only one poll left in the 2008 data set, the Roy Morgan showing National on 48% – 3.1% higher than National’s 2008 election result. The average drop over both elections? 3.9% – rather lower than 6%.

If National’s average polling as at 20 June 2014 (not including the “one-day exception”) is 48.9%, we’d expect to see National therefore drop to 45%.

Of course, my tongue is lodged firmly in my cheek with this “analysis”. My point is merely that statistics can be made to say whatever you wish. Hell, if we include the 2005 election in the analysis, applying the “one-day exception” and excluding Fairfax, there’s only one poll in the data set and it shows National 3.1% below it’s election result of 39.1%. Average everything out on that basis and National drops only 2.1% on average! If their average polling as at 20 June 2014 (including the “one-day exception”) is 49.2%, we can then expect National to get 47.1%, just 0.2% below what they got last election! That should make John Key and Stephen Joyce sleep better tonight…

More lies from Judith Collins exposed

Rob Salmond at Polity has just exposed evidence that Judith Collins lied about her visit to Oravida’s headquarters. Mr Salmond has highlighted a document that (in Mr Salmond’s words):

It shows that Judith Collins’ visit to Oravida was an official, Ministerial visit specifically designed by the New Zealand government to improve Oravida’s, and only Oravida’s, business opportunities in China. That is something Judith Collins is strictly forbidden from doing in her Ministerial capacity, because her husband is a director of the company.

This is further evidence that Collins has used taxpayer funds to help her husband’s business, and that she has spent the last two months lying about that fact to her boss, the Parliament, and the people of New Zealand. She must resign.

So what is this document? It’s an email from Brian Hewson, the Deputy Consul-General in Shanghai, that sets out the schedule for Judith Collins’ visit to Oravida’s HQ (copy included here). The relevant incriminating part of the schedule is as follows:

Meeting Brief: Oravida

Date and Time
23 October 1530-1630

Event
Visit and Tour of Oravida Facilities

Purpose / objective
To increase the profile of a successful importer and distributor of New Zealand products into China

Agenda items / event outline
1445 Depart Bureau of Justice for Oravida Offices

1530 Arrive at Office
Met by Oravida Management
Visit and tour of Oravida facilities
Afternoon tea / chance to meet management and employees

1630 Depart for Pudong International Airport

Background of organization / institution
Oravida New Zealand Ltd. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Oravida Ltd., a diversified company which owns a number of businesses in different sectors. The company is owned by Mr Deyi (Stone ) Shi and has two directors, Julia Xu and David Wong-Tung.

[…]

Attendees

Chinese side to be confirmed

New Zealand
Minister
Ambassador
Consul-General
Malcolm
Macintosh

So, Judith Collins has told Parliament and the New Zealand public (on countless occasions) that she popped in for a twenty minute stop on the way to the airport, purely because she had time. Yet according to the official schedule, this was an official Ministerial visit, planned in advance, that lasted almost two hours and involved four New Zealand officials (in addition to Ms Collins).

Let’s look at what the schedule says about the “Purpose/objective” of the visit:

To increase the profile of a successful importer and distributor of New Zealand products into China

Could it be more blunt? The purpose of the visit was to directly benefit Oravida – the company of which Collins’ husband is a director. That’s about as clear a breach of the Cabinet Manual policy on conflicts of interest as you’ll ever get.

Judith Collins told Parliament:

I was being driven around and I was assured by the ambassador that we could pop into Oravida on the way to the airport, or else I could have gone to the airport and I could have sat in the lounge for an extra long time.

As Rob Salmond writes:

This document shows that was also a lie. The meeting with Oravida was neither informal, spontaneous, nor on the way to the airport. The meeting was planned by officials long in advance, and was ticked off by Collins as part of her Ministerial itinerary before she left New Zealand.

Surely there is no possible way that Collins can explain her way out of this one. The documentation shows that Collins has repeatedly lied to Parliament. The meeting at Oravida – far from being an impromptu visit – was a pre-arranged Ministerial visit, explicitly designed to benefit the company her husband is a director of.

Surely this will be the final strike.

Key cancels Cunliffe debate

On Monday, John Key challenged David Cunliffe to a debate on housing, saying at his post-Cabinet media conference:

“[I]f David Cunliffe wants to have a bit of a chat about it on nationwide TV, I’m more than happy to do so. Yeah, we’ll call it the first debate, I’m looking forward to it.”

David Cunliffe happily accepted the challenge, but yesterday Mr Key declared that the debate was off. As reported in this article, Key says he was referring to the traditional first TV debate during the official election campaign. There will be no separate debate now.

Rob Salmond, at his Polity blog, declares Key’s decision to be “really odd”:

This is really odd. Key is one of the best politician-debaters New Zealand has ever seen. He convincingly beat both Helen Clark and Phil Goff. Neither was any slouch. He has all the benefits of incumbency, and would be up against a relatively new Labour leader, who has never done a Prime Ministerial debate, currently working to a July/August timeline for a first debate, not an April timeline.

Had Key stuck to his offer, the debate would have been his to lose.

So it speaks volumes about the dreadful state of National’s housing policy, and of housing affordability under National’s watch, that Key is now refusing to front.

I think Mr Salmond is reading a little too much into Key’s about-face. The issue for Key is, I believe, whether he provides David Cunliffe with oxygen. Let’s look at it from this perspective: Cunliffe has to fight for every bit of media attention he gets. Wy would Key give him the opportunity to share a stage as equals, and grandstand on national television. Labour is currently polling badly and is fighting off attacks on its left flank from the Greens. David Cunliffe’s personal polling is in single digits and he’s facing media comment about Russell Norman being a more effective Leader of the Opposition. Why would Key give him the opportunity to share a stage as equals, and grandstand on national television?

To me, the decision to put the kibosh on an early one-on-one debate about housing is a no-brainer. A debate is a risk, no matter how well-honed and experienced Key is. It only takes one good line from Cunliffe, and suddenly Labour and its leader could have headlines and momentum. Why take the risk when you don’t need to, especially when the opposition is currently in a state of disarray?

If everyone voted…

Following on from my ponderings yesterday about the so-called ‘missing million’ voters that Labour seems to be relying on as its election strategy, David Farrar at Kiwiblog has gone back to a blog post from November last year by Andrew at Grumpollie – “If everyone got out to vote in 2011, what difference would it have made?”

The basic conclusion from Andrew is that if everyone who was enrolled to vote in 2011 had actually voted, National’s vote would have increased by 0.14% and Labour’s by 1.68%, while the Greens would have decreased by 1.04% and NZ First by 0.82%. Not much of a difference. Mr Farrar concludes, “So my take on this is that just inspiring a larger turnout won’t necessarily help Labour.”

In 2008 though, National’s vote would have decreased by 3.81% while Labour’s would have increased by 3.76%. The Greens would have increased by 0.58% and NZ First would have decreased by 0.09%. That is a significant difference.

Of course, the problem (which Andrew notes and accepts) is that the data being relied on (from the NZ Election Study) involves a very small sample size – just a few hundred. It’s pretty hard to extrapolate too far with such a small sample and the correspondingly large margin of error.

At Polity, Rob Salmond is unimpressed with their conclusion regarding the 2011 election:

Here is why I think they are both wrong:

1. 25.8% of people did not vote in the last election, but only 8.2% of the population admitted it in the survey Grumpollie was using. That’s a very big discrepancy.

2. There is a long-standing tradition to lying to pollsters about whether you voted. It is based on “social desirability bias.” And the people most susceptible to it, people who often do vote and are embarrassed that they did not in 2011, are also in my view among the most likely to have voted for Labour in 2008.

3. The analysis, and David Farrar’s conclusion, is based on the idea that Labour will go hunting for non voters randomly around the country, convincing non-voters in the bluest parts of Clutha-Southland to vote just as much as we do in Labour stronghold areas. We are a bit smarter than that.

This year, I expect Labour will put considerable effort into turning out people who we think like Labour but we think may not have voted in 2011. And National will do the same for people suspected gf being lapsed National supporters. Two parties: one task. The difference, which gives Labour an advantage, is that we are better at this task than National.

With respect to Mr Salmond, Andrew’s analysis and conclusion is based on the conceit that everyone will turn out to vote. And part of the conclusion reached is that the non-voters who have a party preference will be distributed largely in line with the voting preferences of those who did vote.

This obviously means that the “missing million” are not all from the political left, just waiting to be hustled along to the ballot box by Labour. Sure, the 2008 non-voter figures used by Andrew show that 52.27% of those who didn’t vote (and had a party preference) would have voted Labour and the left bloc grows to over 60% if you add the Greens figure of 9.55%. Nonetheless, the 2011 figures show almost 50% of the non-vote would have gone National’s way, with Labour picking up just 34.01% – a significant difference to 2008.

Mr Salmond’s point, of course, is that he thinks Labour will be better at getting out the pro-Labour non-vote than National will be at getting out the pro-National non-vote. And he’s correct that Mr Farrar’s conclusion would be wrong – if Labour increases the left wing turnout rate, while the right bloc’s turnout rate stays static, then of course increased turnout would benefit Labour.

But there’s still the problem for Labour that I pointed out yesterday – Labour shows no sign of picking up these “missing million” and making them want to vote for the party. There doesn’t seem to be any significant change between Labour of 2011 and Labour of 2014 that is capable of creating the excitement amongst the non-voters that will bring them back into the fold. And until that step-change occurs, any talk of Labour’s superior machine getting out the Labour-sympathetic non-vote is just that – only talk.

UPDATE:

Andrew from Grumpollie has his own eloquent critique of Mr Salmond’s post here, which is well worth reading.