Ruth Dyson

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.

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Labour candidates’ destiny out of their hands

Consider the Super 15 (or whatever name the competition is currently going by), as the final round of the regular season arrives. Most teams don’t have a chance at qualifying top of their conference, but there’s still a chance of getting through in one of the remaining spots. But various results have to go their way. Team X must lose to Team Y by 23 points. Team M must draw with Team Q. Their destiny is no longer in their own hands.

Come Election Night, there’s a few sitting Labour MPs who might well be in a similar position. This site’s Poll of Polls currently has Labour on 26.0%, with 33 MPs. Let’s assume that Labour gets 33 MPs on Saturday, and look at who might be in or out.

First, some assumptions. Carmel Sepuloni will win Kelston, and Jenny Salesa will win Manukau East. One’s in a new seat, and the other’s a new candidate, but they should romp home.

There are some relatively marginal seats, but it’s likely than not that Damien O’Connor will win West Coast Tasman, Iain Lees-Galloway will hold Palmsterson North, Trevor Mallard will win Hutt South, Stuart Nash will win back Napier, and Tony Milne will win back Christchurch Central.

If those are the only marginal results that go Labour’s way, then Raymond Huo would be the cut-off point on Labour’s effective list. Carol Beaumont will be gone, as would Ruth Dyson (who isn’t on the list, and is dependent on winning Port Hills in the face of unfavourable boundary changes).

But what happens if a few more close races go in Labour’s favour, with Adrian Rurawhe winning Te Tai Hauauru and Peeni Henare winning Tamaki Makaurau? Well, Kelvin Davis and Raymond Huo won’t be returning. And if Ruth Dyson wins Port Hills? Then it’s sayonara to Moana Mackey.

Attempted new entrants Priyanca Radhakrishnan and Tamati Coffey must have initially thought their respective list positions of 23 and 30 were pretty good. With Labour’s current polling though, Ms Radhakrishnan is certainly no shoe in, and even if Trevor Mallard was to lose Hutt South, Adrian Rurawhe and Peeni Henare were to lose their Maori seat campaigns, and Stuart Nash was to fail in Napier, Tamati Coffey would still only be the next cab off the rank.

List MPs such as Sue Moroney, Andrew Little, Maryan Street and Moana Mackey will be hoping that the Conservatives get 4.9%, therefore bumping up the effective Labour Party vote share.

Quite a few on-the-cusp Labour MPs may be spending their Saturday night hoping that their colleagues fail in their electorate challenges…

Has Brownlee actually broken any laws?

So Gerry Brownlee was running late for a plane, sweet-talked some hapless airport security guard into letting him duck through an exit door to avoid the screening queue, and is now facing an investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority.

He’s offered to resign his Transport portfolio, which John Key has refused, producing much frothing from John Armstrong. Armstrong rants that:

The Transport portfolio includes responsibility for civil aviation. If the minister responsible for the rules covering airport security cannot be bothered abiding by those rules, why should anyone else feel they have to.

His being a minister also put airport security staff in a compromising position – and that is also unacceptable. As a minimum. John Key should have relieved Brownlee of the portfolio on a temporary basis until the Civil Aviation Authority’s investigation has ascertained exactly what happened – something which should take only a day or so at most. To some extent, however, Brownlee has – to his credit – pre-empted that investigation by admitting he was in the wrong and the one who is to blame.

This is no minor matter. Avoiding security screening is a serious offence which carries a fine of up to $3000 and up to two months in prison.

I’ve got a few issues with Mr Armstrong’s analysis. Firstly, Mr Brownlee has in fact requested that his responsibility for CAA to be transferred to his associate minister until the investigation has been completed. Michael Woodhouse now has interim responsibility for CAA.

Secondly, Mr Armstrong’s view seems predicated on Mr Brownlee actually having broken the law:

Like anyone else, Brownlee should not receive any special treatment and should face the potential legal consequences of his actions.

Cabinet ministers, however, also have to set an example. Otherwise the rule of law is rendered meaningless.

He equates Brownlee’s transgression with Ruth Dyson’s resignation as a Minister when she was caught drink driving.

So what law has Mr Brownlee broken? A NZ Herald article on the matter states that:

Section 28 of the Civil Aviation Amendment Act 2004 says a person commits an offence by acting “in a manner that endangers an aircraft or any person in an aircraft”.

For a start, s 28 of the Civil Aviation Amendment Act 2004 says no such thing. It’s a section that inserts Part 5A into the Civil Aviation Act 1990, which deals with “Unruly passenger offences”. Presumably, the Herald writer is referring to s 65F of the Civil Aviation Act (which was indeed one of the twenty sections inserted as Part 5A). However, it seems a rather large stretch to say that Brownlee’s endangered an aircraft. The section doesn’t say “might have endangered”. For a conviction, it has to be proved that the aircraft or any person in the aircraft were in fact endangered.

As far as I can see, the only possible sections of the Civil Aviation Act that could conceivably have broken are ss 51 and 54(1)(b). But even they don’t quite fit the facts of this case.

Section 51 states:

Every person commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding $2,000 who, without reasonable excuse, enters or remains within any aerodrome or any building or area in which are operated technical facilities or services for civil aviation, when directed not to enter or not to remain by a person duly authorised by the Director in writing for that purpose, a constable, or an aviation security officer, or by notice posted by one of those persons.

The problem is that Brownlee asked an aviation security officer whether he could go through the exit door. The security officer granted him access. He therefore wasn’t directed not to enter; in fact, the complete opposite is true. And having obtained permission from an aviation security officer to enter the area also sounds like a “reasonable excuse” to my mind.

Section 54(1)(b) states:

Every person commits an offence who, on being found in a security area or security enhanced area, refuses forthwith to leave the security area or security enhanced area after having been ordered by an aviation security officer to do so.

Again though, Brownlee hasn’t refused to leave after having been ordered to do so. He’s been granted access by an aviation security officer.

Now sure, the security officer’s actions, in letting Brownlee through, were certainly in breach of the airport’s rules, but as far as I can see there’s been no breach of the Civil Aviation Act by Gerry Brownlee.

Did Brownlee’s actions display a certain level of arrogance? Indeed, but that’s not a firing offence…

 

Vulnerable Labour MPs

Over the weekend, it was reported that National has targeted four Labour-held seats it thinks it can win – Trevor Mallard’s seat of Hutt South, Ruth Dyson’s seat of Port Hills, Damien O’Connor in West Coast Tasman, and Iain Lees-Galloway in Palmerston North. Let’s look at each of those seats.

The idea of National taking Hutt South is somewhat far-fetched. Although the recent boundary changes have slashed Mr Mallard’s paper majority from about 4,800 to around 1,800, there still needs to be a further swing against the incumbent. However, Mallard has gone list-only this election, which will likely aid his vote, and he’ll undoubtedly be calling in a wide variety of favours to ensure he’s got a constant supply of foot soldiers on the ground. As Tracy Watkins wrote:

Labour has thrown its foot soldiers at the seat, knocking on 13,000 households doors over the last 12 months. This weekend alone 40 activists are canvassing Mallard’s home suburb of Wainuiomata.

‘‘We’ve done more canvassing [in Hutt South] than I have ever done before,’’ Mallard says.

I’d be surprised though if National actually believed they are likely to take Hutt South. Instead, it’s a diversionary tactic. If Mallard feels under pressure, he’ll stay hunkered down in his electorate, diverting resources (people, time and money) to ensuring the continuance of his political career. A Mallard that is pinned down in Hutt South is a Mallard that isn’t traveling the country lending support to other electorates. Targeting Hutt South is a smart move for National.

In Port Hills, the situation is far less clear. Ruth Dyson may currently hold the seat with a 3,097 vote majority, but the boundary changes have created a paper majority of around 500 for the National candidate. It’s certainly winnable for National, but (as I’ve previously noted) they certainly took their time in selecting a candidate, possibly surrendering an edge to Labour.

Like Mr Mallard, Ms Dyson has gone list-only this election. One can only imagine that she has worked out that her slide down the Labour rankings (from 5th in 2011 to 28th after David Cunliffe’s last reshuffle) would result in a dreadful list position, and she’s hell-bent on shoring up her electorate support. It looks set to be a close race, with iPredict currently showing Dyson and National’s candidate Nuk Korako all tied up with 50/50 odds.

Over on the West Coast, Damien O’Connor would surely have to be fancied to retain his seat. After reclaiming the seat in 2011, having lost it in 2008, O’Connor has kept a close eye on what his constituents want to hear. Having hit all the right notes back in 2011 with his “gaggle of gays” and “self-serving unionists” comments, O’Connor recently crossed the floor to support the commercial removal of the swathe of storm-fallen native timber, and fought valiantly (albeit unsuccessfully) for the proceeds of the timber removal to remain in the region. It’s hard to see the West Coast Tasman voters deserting him.

Nonetheless, National have a tough candidate in the form of former Westland mayor Maureen Pugh, so there’s still a chance of an upset. Especially with National announcing tens of millions of new roading projects in the electorate, in the form of replacing the Taramakau Bridge and improving Mingha Bluff, already condemned by Mr O’Connor as “pork-barrel politics”.

Finally, there’s Palmerston North. With a 3,285 vote majority and no boundary change issues, Iain Lees-Galloway would ordinarily consider himself safe. However, National’s choice of candidate – Mayor Jono Naylor – may make Lees-Galloway vulnerable. Mr Naylor was re-elected as Mayor last year for a third term, receiving 52.7% of people’s first choice votes. Whether that support continues, as Mr Naylor goes from being a popular independent to a National Party candidate remains to be seen. Nonetheless, after Port Hills, Palmerston North is probably National’s best chance of picking up a seat off Labour.

 

What is National doing in Port Hills?

I’ve been somewhat scathing about Labour’s endless faffing about in the Tamaki Makaurau electorate, failing to choose a candidate in a timely fashion, but National’s inaction in the Port Hills electorate is just as bad.

Ruth Dyson currently holds Port Hills with a majority of 3,097. Ordinarily, you’d have to assume that National has probably reached its high water mark, in terms of cutting electorate majorities in Labour seats, but that doesn’t take into account the new boundary changes. Ms Dyson took 48.41% of the electorate vote in 2011, compared to David Carter’s 38.89%, giving her a 9.53 percentage point lead. Under the proposed boundary changes – in which Port Hills took in a large chunk of blue-ribbon Selwyn electorate – that 9.53% lead to Ms Dyson would have become an 8.01% lead to the National candidate (boundary change figures provided by Ben Raue). Although the final boundary change includes rather less of Selwyn than it did, I would estimate the seat to be either a toss-up or slightly favouring National (although I haven’t run any hard numbers).

National’s David Carter won’t be contesting Port Hills again – as Speaker of the House, he’s going list-only. By comparison, Ruth Dyson is withdrawing from Labour’s list and going electorate-only. Presumably she’s worked out that going from being ranked number 5 in Labour in 2011 to number 28 today is a pretty good indication that her list ranking may be embarrassingly low, which would only harm her prospects of holding her electorate.

National announced that the Wigram electorate was winnable, and announced its candidate 9 days ago. I’ve previously said they’re highly unlikely to take Wigram. Port Hills was always going to be a far more likely bet for National, but by not yet choosing a candidate, National may well have blown its chance. Ms Dyson has nothing to lose and will be door knocking the electorate with a vengeance. In comparison, National don’t even have a name or face to offer, let alone a physical candidate standing at people’s front doors and attempting to be charming.

Any paper majority that National’s electorate candidate might have will be slipping away with every day that passes. Not having candidates selected in marginal seats at this stage in the game is unforgivable, whichever party we’re talking about.

Cunliffe gives retirement hint to Beaumont, Fenton and Huo?

With Shane Jones soon to be a political memory, David Cunliffe has done a “mini shuffle” today.

Of the winners, Andrew Little rockets up six places to 11th because of his work “doing the heavy lifting in Justice and Labour”, Phil Twyford picks up transport from Darien Fenton and moves up to 6th with a spot on the front bench, Grant Robertson picks up Shane Jones’ old economic development portfolio, and Trevor Mallard moves from being unranked to 15th.

Maryan Street both wins and loses, dropping four places to 16th, but picking up the tertiary education portfolio.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the “mini shuffle” is Kelvin Davis. He’s still waiting for Mr Jones to actually leave so he can enter Parliament, but he’s been given the number 22 ranking, plus associate roles in regional development, education, police and corrections. That means he leapfrogs Carol Beaumont, Megan Woods, Kris Faafoi, Darien Fenton, Clare Curran, Ruth Dyson, Raymond Huo, Rino Tirikatene, Meka Whaitiri and Poto Williams.

Labour obviously has no intention of accidentally losing Mr Davis for a second time, should the party crash and burn again in September.

So what about those ranked below him? It’s not such an issue for Woods, Tirikatene, Whaitiri and Williams – they’re relatively new MPs with safe seats. Likewise, Faafoi has only been around since 2010 and holds a safe seat.

Claire Curran and Ruth Dyson will certainly be spending a lot of time shoring up support in their electorates, given the relatively marginal nature of their seats, but – for the moment at least – they’ve got electorate seats.

It’s a different story though for Carol Beaumont, Darien Fenton and Raymond Huo. They’re all list MPs, totally reliant on the party vote to get them back in. And they’ve just been told that they aren’t worth as much as Mr Davis, who isn’t yet an MP and who ranked below them last election.

Labour has been copping a fair amount of stick regarding their lack of regeneration. It certainly looks as if Cunliffe is sending a signal to these three list MPs that they might like to re-examine their career plans for the good of the party.