The Standard

Second-guessing the Northland by-election

There’s an interesting debate over at The Standard regarding what Labour and the Greens should do in the Northland by-election, should Winston Peters announce that he’s standing.

Te Reo Putake, in his post entitled ‘Stand by Your Man‘, argues that if Peters stands, Labour and the Greens should withdraw. The basic thrust of the argument is that it would show opposition solidarity (a government in waiting!). Plus, there’s the chance that Peters might be able to take the seat in a one-on-one battle, forcing National to rely on two minor votes to pass legislation, rather than just one.

In a counter-post, Micky Savage argues that doing so would make Labour appear weak, would remove the party’s ability to campaign on issues important to it, and may give NZ First momentum that Labour may regret. Further, Peters just can’t be trusted to actually side with Labour in 2017:

Memories of 1996 when Peters campaigned through the country promising a change of Government but then sided with National are still strong.  And he is the worst sort of politician who can campaign against the cynicism of politics as usual but then engage in the most cynical of politics.

Interestingly, the Greens have now made the decision not to stand a candidate. In a press release, they state:

“It is our strategic assessment that we should not run in the by-election and instead focus on our nationwide climate change and inequality campaigns,” said Green Party Co-convenor John Ranta.

“The world’s attention will be focused on fixing climate change this year and we will be at the forefront of that issue here in New Zealand.

“We have a real opportunity to address both climate change and inequality and we want our party focused on those issues.”

The justification given for not standing is laughable. Standing a candidate provides an easy platform for the party to campaign on climate change and inequality.

So why then aren’t the Greens standing a candidate?

Is it money? Election campaigns are never cheap, and the party might well have decided it simply doesn’t have the resources to spend this soon after a general election.

Or are the Greens trying to lure Peters into the ring, considering him to be the best chance the opposition has of decreasing the Government’s parliamentary majority?

David Farrar at Kiwiblog evidently believes it’s the latter, describing it as “The beginning of the dirty deal in Northland”. I’m unconvinced though. There’s no love lost between the Greens and NZ First, given Peters’ history of trying to shut the Greens out of government. And there’s still no indication as to whether Peters will or won’t stand.

I simply cannot see the Greens pulling out of the race out of the goodness of their hearts, in an attempt to aid a yet-to-be-announced run from Peters. Especially given that Labour have already announced their candidate, and are therefore unlikely to withdraw and upset their local support base.

To my mind, the Greens simply don’t see much opportunity to gain political capital in the upcoming by-election. It’ll be just over half a year since the last general election, and there’s no new policy that can be campaigned on. There’s probably very little spare cash lying around, and they know their candidate can’t win. (Their 2014 candidate, list MP David Clendon, lives in New Lynn, so isn’t even Northland-based.)

If the by-election were being held mid-term, it might have been a different story. Right now though, the timing’s just wrong for a cash-strapped minor party, with no high-profile local candidate.

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The Blomfield v Slater judgment – what does it mean for your average blogger?

So with the finding of the High Court that Cameron Slater is a journalist (see my previous posts here, here and here), and that his Whaleoil blog is a news medium, there’s been some presumption from some on the internet that political bloggers as a class have now been raised to the level of journalists. Lprent at the Standard, for example, says:

I was rather expecting that Justice Asher would make me and other authors here honorary journalists under section 68 of the Evidence Act 2006, and that is what he did.

I’m not entirely certain that lprent is right. There are a few fishhooks spread throughout Asher J’s judgment that seem to indicate that the Courts would consider Cameron Slater to be a bit of a special case among bloggers.

For a start, there’s the definition of a news medium s 68(5) of the Evidence Act: “a medium for the dissemination to the public or a section of the public of news and observations on news”. The key word there – “and” – means that for a political blog to be considered a news medium, that blog must not only disseminate observations on news (which is the general blogging modus operandi), but to also disseminate news. Justice Asher notes at para 54:

Given that the medium must be “for the dissemination to the public of news …” a blog that publishes a single news item would not qualify. The blog must have a purpose of disseminating news. Some regular commitment to the publishing of news must exist before a blog is a news medium.

So what is news? Well, that’s where things get fuzzy. Following reference to the New Zealand Oxford English Dictionary, Asher J states that “[t]he reporting of news involves this element of providing new information to the public about recent events of interest to the public”.

It’s a definition that doesn’t necessarily advance matters. If a radio news bulletin, for example, simply involves the repetition of news broken by others, is the bulletin in fact disseminating news? You’d assume so. So if a blog essentially does the same thing – repeating news stories broken by mainstream news organisations, but providing coverage through the blogger’s voice – is this really any different to a radio news bulletin? Where does the distinction between disseminating news and disseminating comment on news begin and end?

Justice Asher’s judgment, in finding that Whaleoil was a news medium, dwells on Cameron Slater’s investigations and stories that he broke (see paras 58 to 59, and 63 to 64). There’s an implication that a blog must be breaking stories to the public in order to be considered a news medium. Simply reacting to stories already broken, and repeating those stories (with or without additional editorial comment) doesn’t seem to be enough.

At para 62 of the judgment, Asher J states, “In my assessment, Mr Slater’s reports contain genuine new information of interest over a wide range of topics”, while at para 65 it is stated:

It is this element of regularly providing new or recent information of public interest which is in my view determinative. He was not doing this as often as would occur in a newspaper or a television or radio station, but that could not be expected of a single blogger. Such a person would not have the resources to operate on that scale. I do not see it as a pre-requisite that the quantity of stories must be equivalent to that of a substantial corporate news organisation. His motives for reporting are not crucial either. Because Whale Oil at the relevant time with reasonable frequency provided such information, as well as commentary and the opportunity for debate, it was a news medium.

 So are the authors at the Standard, Pundit, The Daily Blog or Public Address journalists? Is Danyl McLauchlan at the Dim-Post a journalist? Or David Farrar at Kiwiblog? Or Pete George at Your NZ? Or yours truly? From the High Court’s judgment, who knows. Most blogs, such as Occasionally Erudite, simply involve commentary on topical news items – the individual blogger’s view on the story or stories of the day – which seems unlikely to reach the threshold of being a news medium or journalism.

But at the Standard, lprent has reported live from the NZ First conference, or attended the Blomfield v Slater High Court hearing and provided a report on what occurred. At Public Address, Russell Brown provides additional background to stories he covers on his Media Take show or provides details of interviews with Patrick Gower, while Graeme Edgeler has exhaustively researched and posted on issues such as the secrecy of the Coroner’s Court.

Are these examples of journalism? One would assume so. Do they occur regularly enough for those particular blogs to be considered news mediums, according to Asher J? Hard to say. The test seems to be on a case by case basis, with regular provision of new information to the public being relative to the individual blogger.

Nonetheless, it seems that most bloggers wouldn’t be considered to be journalists, following Asher J’s reasoning. Repeating stories on a blog and providing comment won’t get you over the threshold. And even if you break stories, it has to happen on a regular basis (whatever “regular” may mean).

Cameron Slater seems to be a special case.

 

 

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.

ACT’s corporate tax cut number confusion

It’s hardly surprising that ACT has released a policy involving the reduction of corporate tax. Promising not to cut taxes – that would certainly be one for the books…

The NZ Herald reports:

The Act Party wants to cut the company tax rate from 28 per cent to 12.5 per cent by 2020, which it says will see a rush of business activity that would boost jobs and wages.

“No single measure could do more to promote the economic welfare of New Zealanders than cutting the company tax rate. And it is relatively easy, because company tax raises far less revenue for the government than income tax and GST.”

Dr Whyte said reducing the company tax rate from 28 per cent to 20 per cent next year would cost $1.53 billion in lost revenue – which would be made up by scrapping all Government funding to business interests, or “corporate welfare”.

Cutting the rate further by 1.5 per cent a year would cost about $150m in lost revenue. By 2020, the company tax rate would be 12.5 per cent.

The problem is that the numbers don’t match up.

Treasury predicts corporate tax revenue in 2015 to be approximately $9.8 billion. Dropping the corporate tax rate to 20% in the first year would drop that tax take to about $7.0 billion, a drop of $2.8 billion. That’s well above the $1.53 billion in lost revenue that ACT are forecasting in the first year.

Of course, ACT are predicting that decreasing corporate tax rates will increase economic growth, which means that lost revenue will in fact be less than $2.8 billion. ACT estimates that each percentage point reduction in corporate tax results in a $220 million loss in Treasury revenue, which ends up being only a $150 million loss “when you take into account the fact that a lower company tax rate will expand the economic base to which it is applied and increase the dividends and wages subject to incomes tax” (quote taken from Jamie Whyte’s speech – link here).

But applying that formula to ACTs initial 2015 corporate tax rate decrease of 8% yields a loss of just $1.2 billion. Whichever you look at them, ACT’s figures for the first year (based on their own calculations) don’t seem to add up.

In fact, their figures don’t seem to work for subsequent years either. Just look at the table below, again taken from Jamie Whyte’s speech notes.

Table 1: Revenue forgone from a lower company tax, $million

Tax rate Lost revenue Funded by

2015

20.0%

$1,530

Abolishing corporate welfare ($1.5 billion) and carbon trading ($164 million)

2016

18.5%

$154

Part of the $1.5 billion of new spending in the Budget

2017

17.0%

$153

As above

2018

15.5%

$150

As above

2019

14.0%

$150

As above

2020

12.5%

$150

As above

Mr Whyte’s speech says that every 1% decrease in the corporate tax rate will result in a $150 million loss in revenue to Treasury. Yet, his table shows a $150 million loss per 1.5% drop in the corporate tax rate.

Over at the Standard, Micky Savage has posted on “ACT’s voodoo economics“. His self-described “quick calculation” regarding the loss in Treasury revenue doesn’t appear to include any factoring in of increased economic growth, but the interesting part of the post is his update:

ACT candidate Stephen Berry has provided me with some more details of the policy.

  • The cut in the first year will be to 20% at a cost of $3 billion.
  • The initial shortfall will be funded by further asset sales.
  • The 12.5% rate will not be reached until 2020 and they presume that the enhanced growth rate will fund this.

Still does not add up …

It appears ACT’s Stephen Berry doesn’t know the details of the policy either. His estimate of the first year cost to Treasury is almost double that of his leader’s. Further, Mr Whyte says the first year loss will be completely covered by “abolishing corporate welfare and carbon trading”, while Mr Berry thinks further assets sales will be needed to cover a shortfall.

I’d also note that if the corporate tax rate becomes wildly out of synch with personal or trust tax rates, there will be a huge incentive for individuals to set up companies, channelling income through a company at a lower tax rate than if they syphoned it through a trust or declared it as personal income. Such distortions will also impact on ACT’s figures, although there’s nothing in Mr Whyte’s speech to suggest that this has been factored in.

ACT’s figures on this issue look dodgier by the hour.

Poll of Polls update – 31 July 2014

Roy Morgan has just released their latest poll, and finally there’s some relatively good news for the Left! It certainly didn’t take long for Micky Savage at the Standard to have a quick half-gloat… Or Martyn Bradbury at the Daily Blog (especially since Roy Morgan calls cellphones and is thus the only poll worth following, don’t ya know!)…

National slumps significantly, down 5% to 46%, it’s worst poll result from any of the major pollsters since the mid-May Roy Morgan, where National registered at 45.5%.

Labour climbs to 30%, up 6.5%. 30% may not be an amazing result, but given that Labour has had a run of ten major polls in a row placing them under 30%, it’ll give the party something to finally smile about.

The Greens may have dropped 3%, but they’re still on a creditable 12%, leaving a combined Labour/Greens bloc 4% adrift of National.

For the remaining minor parties, there’s good news for Internet Mana, up 1% to 2.5%. NZ First is down 1%, but they still sit exactly on the 5% threshold. The Maori Party gains 0.5% to 1.5%, while the Conservative Party remains static on 1%, and ACT and United Future sit unchanged on 0.5%.

So here’s how the Poll of Polls looks now:

National: 50.1% (-0.3%)

Labour: 27.7% (+0.2%)

Greens: 11.9% (nc)

NZ First: 4.6% (nc)

Maori: 1.0% (nc)

United Future: 0.2% (+0.1%)

ACT: 0.5% (nc)

Internet Mana: 1.9% (+0.1%)

Conservative: 1.5% (nc)

Based on those percentages, the parties are predicted to win the following number of seats:

National: 64 (-1)

Labour: 36 (+1)

Greens: 15 (-1)

NZ First: 0 (nc)

Maori: 1 (nc)

United Future: 1 (nc)

ACT: 1 (nc)

Internet Mana: 3 (+1)

There’s some interesting movement, both in the poll result and seat allocations.

Poll result-wise, the big news is that United Future finally hit 0.2% again, having been marooned on 0.1% since late May!

National finally drops, but stays above 50%, while Labour finally stops dropping and rebounds slightly to 27.7%. In fact, just look at Labour’s last six major poll results – 23.5%, 24.9%, 26.5%, 26.7%, 28% and now 30%. There’s an upward trend there, for those on the Left looking for glimmers of hope!

Internet Mana continues its gradual climb, now up to 1.9%, and that’s just enough to get them a third seat, bringing in Annette Sykes. It’s at the cost of the Greens, who drop a seat, back down to 15 MPs, while National drops a seat to Labour.

That means that there’s a net gain of just one seat to the Left. Overall, the Right bloc is back to a total of 66 seats in total, compared to 54 for a Labour, Greens and Internet Mana alliance.

Labour’s disturbing rape prosecution reform plans

The presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle of our legal system. Section 25 of the Bill of Right Act 1990 provides “the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law”. Article 11((1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

The presumption of innocence is perhaps best summed up by the expression “The burden of proof is on he who declares, not on he who denies”. In other words, Police must prove beyond reasonable doubt all of the elements of the crime that one stands accused of. In rape cases, that means the Crown must prove beyond reasonable doubt that a complainant did not consent to the sexual activity.

Part of Labour’s policy on preventing sexual violence is to consider “amending the definition of consent in instances of sexual violation to ensure it does not impose an unfair burden on victims of violence”. As the NZ Herald reports:

The policy would mean that in a rape case, if the Crown proved a sexual encounter and the identity of the defendant, it would be rape unless the defendant could prove it was consensual.

The presumption of innocence is there to protect the innocent. As Sir William Blackstone wrote in 1765, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”. Nonetheless, Andrew Little, Labour’s justice spokesman, doesn’t believe that innocent people get caught up in the system. The NZ Herald reports:

Labour’s justice spokesman Andrew Little did not think the party’s proposal would lead to more innocent people being convicted.

“I don’t see why. You’re assuming that there is a propensity to lay false complaints. There is no evidence pointing to that.”

How nice. So if there are only isolated instances of false rape complaints, it’s perfectly fine to eradicate the presumption of innocence?

Over at the Standard, Stephanie Rodgers tries to minimise the issue by noting that it’s not yet firm policy that Labour will change the burden of proof as to proving consent. First, the Law Commission will complete its report into inquisitorial systems, before Labour then responds to the report:

“It’s headline news: Labour supports re-starting a Law Commission review initiated by Simon Power to investigate possible changes in our judicial system including the option of adopting an inquisitorial approach in cases of sexual violence. Shocking stuff!”

And:

“But the only thing Labour is guilty of is considering an expert, independent review of our justice system. That’s all.”

But it’s not that simple. “Amending the definition of consent” is a specific reform that Labour will be considering, and the likely Justice Minister if Labour forms the next Government, Andrew Little, is aggressively and unequivocally defending the policy of reversing the onus of proof. Those who believe in the presumption of innocence most certainly should be attacking Labour on this policy.

I can appreciate Ms Rodgers’ point that that something is wrong when sexual violence is reported at an estimated rate of only 9%, and that the conviction rate is just 13%. Yes, it’s important that we debate ways in which our justice system can be improved. A conversation regarding the pros and cons of the adversarial and inquisitorial systems may well be fruitful, in terms of the way sexual violence prosecutions are conducted.

Nonetheless, forcing defendants to prove consent, and eroding the presumption of innocence, is not the way forward. It’s a terrible, terrible idea, and it worries me that both Labour and National (National, of course, has declared war on the right to silence) appear to have no respect for some of our fundamental rights.

(As an aside, a number of commentators seem to be assuming that a defendant would have to prove consent beyond reasonable doubt. That’s not necessarily so. Labour (as far as I’m aware) haven’t spelled out what the test would be, but it’s entirely possible that it could be on the balance of probabilities. For example, if the admissibility of identification evidence is challenged by a defendant, s 45(1) of the Evidence Act generally requires the defendant to prove on the balance of probabilities that the evidence is unreliable.

Professor Warren Brookbanks seems to think it would be on the balance of probabilities:

“Usually in these cases, there are no witnesses. Who do you believe? The defendant has to go the full distance of proving to the satisfaction of the court that it’s more probable than not that the victim was consenting. That is a very difficult threshold to reach.”

 

However, regardless of whether the test is balance of probabilities or beyond reasonable doubt, that doesn’t detract from the fact that Labour’s policy is an insult to the fundamentals of justice.)

The Mallard and the Moa

Image

In major policy news yesterday from the Labour Party, Trevor Mallard is reported to have told a group of businessmen that he wants to see moa resurrected and wandering Wainuiomata, thanks to DNA extracted from the extinct birds.

Ordinarily, one would simply expect a few snide posts on the interweb about Labour “talking about the things that matter” (and there were), but this was one diversion that spiralled out of control in a way that was entirely predictable, and had indeed even been seen coming by Mr Mallard (note the stuff.co.nz article stating “He was aware that he had opened himself to “bird jokes and extinction jokes…”).

What followed were an endless stream of moa and extinction jokes in the House (the best being National’s Scott Simpson interjecting with “A live moa!” when Winston Peters got to his feet), a parade of National MPs lining up on the evening news to snigger at Mallard and Labour, and any political message Labour may have wanted to push being utterly eradicated.

The odd thing was that it doesn’t appear to have been an off-hand quip, thought up on the spur off the moment. Look at the photo above – there’s a picture of a moa being beamed up beside Mallard. His speechwriter actually thought Mallard’s moa musings were a fantastic idea.

Over at the Standard, Micky Savage attempted to run defence for Mallard, noting that “Our politicians should be future thinkers and should be willing to discuss ideas and concepts, no matter how bizarre they currently may be” and “Politics can be a brutal, overly serious business sometimes. We should tolerate the odd occasion when our elected representatives break out of their shell and make the odd wisecrack”. He was swiftly rebutted by Colonial Viper, who noted:

Next question: why is there “irrelevant crap like this” being put out there in the first place, 80 days before an election.

The moa quip could have worked – if Mallard had followed up with serious points on how Labour was going to support genetic and genomic research (and science in general) in NZ over the long timeframes needed to pull off something like a moa project. Backed up by a real commitment of money. Stuff that a government in waiting might say on the campaign trail in other words.

But no, there was no actual substance or follow up. So it just looks daft.

Colonial Viper may have been perhaps a tad unfair to Mr Mallard. After all, the stuff.co.nz article noted Mr Mallard saying that his speech included a long term look to the future. I haven’t seen the speech notes, but it’s entirely possible that the moa quip was part of a segment taking about the importance of long-term planning. Nonetheless, even if there was a context within the speech, Mallard’s strange comedy routine for the cameras afterwards, where he talked about only wanting small moa that he could pat on the head, simply looked inane.

National’s odds for an upset victory in Mallard’s Hutt South seat may just have shortened slightly…

Comedy at the Standard

I had to laugh this morning when I Stephanie Rodgers’ blog at the Standard – “The dirtiest election campaign backfires“. Ms Rodgers writes:

Yesterday looked like it was going to be a pretty bad day. There were scandalous revelations, blatant lies, unrestrained corruption gnawing at the very heart of the left. At least, that’s what we were promised.

But in the end what we got was a pretty standard, decade-old MP’s letter to Immigration asking about timeframes for a constituent and a chorus cry from people who were never going to support anything Labour did anyway for Cunliffe to resign.

What happened next was interesting.

As the story developed – or rather, undeveloped, because a few pictures of someone’s wife standing next to Rick Barker is not the Zimmerman Telegram – I saw a lot of people on my (admittedly leftwing, Wellington-focused) Twitter feed coming together to call bullshit on the whole thing.

In addition to providing a collection of tweets that supported David Cunliffe, Ms Rodgers also pointed to three other posts on the Standard as evidence that that nice Mr Cunliffe is being most unfairly picked on by the media. Apparently there’s no crisis if the people who share your ideology also believe there’s no crisis.

However, if it’s all a storm in a teacup and the public see though the invidious media manipulation, then why does the Herald’s current online survey have 62% of people answering “Yes” to the question “Should David Cunliffe resign as Labour’s leader?” Sure, it’s an unscientific, self-selecting survey, rather than a scientific randomly conducted poll. However, at the time of publication of this post, almost 16,000 had voted, providing a large enough sample that Labour should be worried.

Ms Rodgers goes on to write:

But it is, really, a story of hope. Because you have to ask yourself just how desperate the Nats have to be if their first kinghit on Cunliffe is an 11-year-old pro-forma MP’s letter which says nothing more than “how long is this going to take, yo.”

Now, I agree that the letter is, in itself, relatively innocuous. However, having spent weeks using Donghua Liu as a stick to beat National with, the unveiling of Cunliffe’s letter, in conjunction with the allegedly undeclared $15,000 donation from Mr Liu, completely destroys Labour’s “cash for access” line of attack. It destroys Labour’s “brain fade” line of attack against John Key. It forces Cunliffe to appear on every talk show in the land, denying that he’s a liar. And less than 95 days from an election, it stops Labour from talking policy.

That’s not National party desperation. It’s simply cynical and tactical use of a weapon at an opportune moment. And Cunliffe was gullible enough to walk into the trap that had been set.

The Standard – sigh…

Tim Watkins had a post up at the Pundit site called “Does the Labour-National gap even matter under MMP? You bet“. He made a number of good points, which I’ll paraphrase below:

  • No party under MMP has formed the next government when they have been on the losing end of a 15% gap between the major parties.
  • Volunteers and MPs are more likely to work hard when the polls are closer.
  • It’s hard to get the “missing million” out when there’s a huge gap between the major parties, and Labour doesn’t look like winning.
  • If NZ First holds the balance of power, and Labour is 15% behind National, it will be hard for Winston Peters to justify to his supporters any decision to go with Labour.
  • Likewise, if the Maori party were to hold the balance of power, Te Ururoa Flavell has made it clear they will go with the larger party.

Over at the Standard, Ben Clark has put up a post entitled “Tim Watkin is wrong“. The gist? In all of the MMP elections that have occurred worldwide, there has been one example of the losing party (by a 15 point gap) forming the government – the 2011 Baden-Wurttemberg state election.

That’s great, Mr Clark, but it somewhat misses the point. For a start, I’m fairly confident that Tim Watkins was talking about NZ MMP elections when he wrote that “[n]o party has had [a 15 percentage point] lead under MMP and not formed the next government”. And even if he weren’t (and had, horror of horrors, failed to account for the 2011 Baden-Wurttemberg state election), his major point is that a 15 percentage point gap between National and Labour will have a number of flow on effects, both in terms of campaign enthusiasm from MPs and activists and in terms of the coalition negotiations that follow.

Unfortunately, Mr Clark hasn’t bothered to address any of Mr Watkins’ substantive points. The 2011 Baden-Wurttemberg state election is Mr Clark’s talisman, and nothing shall divert him from its complete inconsequentiality to NZ MMP politics, where voters (admittedly, for no good reason) have a fundamental dislike of the idea that the “winning” party doesn’t get to be the government.

It seems typical of the left these days to seize on one arcane point and completely ignore the important points that are everywhere else around them. Can’t see the wood for the trees, and all that… And just drink the Koolaid – it’ll be good for you…

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

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

The issues with the poll were many and varied:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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