Trevor Mallard

The Labour leadership meltdown continues

Over the weekend, I road tripped it down to Wellington, where I had a beer with a pollster, briefly checked on what announcement Cunliffe had made mid-Saturday afternoon, and then proceeded to ignore politics. Fine wine and convivial company was far superior… But of course, although one can ignore politics, politics has a habit of keeping on happening.

So Cunliffe resigned. Or he announced that he will resign at the next caucus meeting, which is tomorrow. Although he still wants the job. He’s triggered a leadership ballot, hoping to avoid the death by a thousand cuts of waiting for his colleagues to destroy him, leak by insidious leak.

Unfortunately, there’s no timeframe yet on when the leadership ballot will occur. Will the party wait for its campaign review to be completed before the ballot? Cunliffe will be hoping not – it’s what he resigned in order to avoid. His opponents want a review first, hoping that his leadership gets put through the wringer ahead of a vote. Cunliffe would far prefer a quick vote, to strike while the iron is hot and before the membership lose its collective sympathy for him.

The problem is that waiting for the completion of the review leaves the party in limbo. Once Cunliffe resigns tomorrow, there’s nothing but disfunction. It’ll be week after week of Cunliffe and Robertson twisting the knife on each other.

It’s already begun. On The Nation, there was Grant Robertson happily reminding viewers about Cunliffe’s infamous apology for being a man, his failure to recall policy detail and, of course, like a broken record, that Labour got 24% (never mind that with rounding it should be 25%). Meanwhile, David Cunliffe is busy swiping at “beltway politicians“, a not-so-subtle slap at Robertson.

And it’s not just the leadership contenders reverting to attacking their own party, rather than going for National. Chief Whip Chris Hipkins confirmed to The Nation that he’d placed a ban on MPs speaking about the leadership contest, only to have someone leak an email from Trevor Mallard, which reportedly told Hipkins that he wouldn’t stay silent. Another day, another leak…

In the meantime, National makes hay. John Key certainly seems to be enjoying his role as commentator on Labour Party difficulties. As Stuff reports:

Today, Key said Cunliffe’s announcement was not a move he’d make.

“[I’d] probably not put my name forward again, but that’s entirely a matter for him. Not that he performed badly on the campaign trail, I’m not arguing that.”

The problem was Labour’s system for electing new leaders, which could see the caucus lumped with an unpopular figure, Key said on Breakfast.

“Under our system, it’s the caucus that determines whether you’re the leader. They have a different system, their affiliates vote and the unions and party membership vote, but I really don’t agree with that.

“I think if you can’t carry your caucus, it’s very difficult to be an effective leader and it’s pretty clear he doesn’t have the support of his caucus,” Key said.

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.

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…

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…

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.

 

McCready jumps the shark

When the Solicitor-General took over the prosecution of John Banks, Graham McCready – retired accountant, convicted blackmailer and tax fraud, and successful prosecutor of Trevor Mallard – received a boost in credibility. Vindication was his.

Evidently, he rather enjoyed the role of public watchdog (and presumably the attention that went with it), as, Don Quixote-like, he immediately set off on an ill-prepared campaign to take down Len Brown and his wife for corruption. That prosecution attempt crashed and burned at the first hurdle, but the recent guilty verdict against John Banks (and of course the renewed publicity for Mr McCready that followed) appears to renewed McCready’s thirst to remain in the limelight.

Now, he’s pursuing private prosecutions against John Key, Detective Inspector Mark Benefield and John Banks, for conspiring to defeat the course of justice by not prosecuting Mr Banks. Unfortunately, Mr McCready appears to have lost track of why Justice Wylie found Mr Banks guilty – namely, a wealth of reliable witnesses who came up to brief for the Crown, and, in particular, the evidence of Kim Dotcom’s lawyer, Gregory Towers. In this new private prosecution, unless McCready has one hell of a damning OIA  paper trail, in which Mr Key, Mr Banks and Detective Inspector Benefield all email each other in some cartoon villain fashion, McCready will have nothing.

Nothing but a thirst for publicity.

Consider the shark well and truly jumped.

Further to Labour’s immigration shambles : whining is unbecoming

Labour walked into a trap in the Pacific this week, and it has only itself to blame.

David Cunliffe’s current propensity for seemingly making up Labour’s immigration policy on the fly has opened the party up to attacks that are difficult to defend against. Namely, National can fear monger by telling any possible group of immigrants it pleases that Labour intends to shut the door on them. National then simply leaves Labour to try and explain why National is wrong – except that it’s difficult for anybody in Labour to sound convincing on the subject when no one seems to quite know what the policy was, is or will be.

This week, with John Key touring the Pacific on his Pacific Mission, and with Trevor Mallard having confirmed that Labour would be looking at cutting migrants coming on work visas and the family reunion category, it should have been no surprise to Labour that John Key would be taking the opportunity to sow the seeds of fear among the Pacific nations, which would of course flow back to Labour’s Pacific voter base back in New Zealand.

Except that apparently it was a surprise to Labour. When Samoa’s Prime Minister, was asked in a press conference about Labour’s proposed restrictions, he labelled them “detrimental to New Zealand”. Mr Key then took the opportunity to put the boot in and plug for the Pacifica vote. David Shearer, joining Key on the Pacific Mission as Labour’s representative, seemed to be caught on the hop. Here’s the reporting of Shearer’s statement in response:

Mr Shearer is on the Pacific Mission with John Key, during which Mr Key has repeatedly claimed Labour’s plans to rein in immigration will affect the Pacific Islands and extolled National as better for Pacific Islanders.

Mr Shearer said it was inappropriate to use the trip and opportunities such as a press conference with Samoa’s Prime Minister to comment on another party.

“It should be an apolitical NZ Inc trip to the Pacific, and he is using it to raise these issues.

“It is fair enough in New Zealand, but we are all here to make the best possible impression on the Pacific that we can.”

He said Mr Key should have declined to answer such questions “rather than extrapolate and put a political spin on it”.

“He doesn’t even understand what Labour’s policy is. We have agreements with the Pacific, and those aren’t going to be changing.”

The correct response should have been to clearly enunciate Labour’s policy, stress the minimal impact it would have on the Pacific Islands and perhaps make a final comment that you’re disappointed in the Prime Minister’s politicking. But the problem is, again, that no one in Labour seems to know what the policy is. When the immigration spokesperson has been telling the media that Labour are looking at cutting work visas and family reunifications, it’s probably not much comfort for the Islands to know that existing minimum quotas will remain.

Instead, Shearer simply looked like he was whining, having been politically outclassed by the Prime Minister. No one looks good when they whine. It’s a lesson Labour should have learned when David Cunliffe began bleating during the Royal tour about how John Key was getting more photo ops.

Labour’s immigration policy is a mess.

When David Parker first announced that Labour intended to use immigration as a tool to ease housing and inflationary pressure, I was somewhat concerned. Firstly, Governments are notoriously bad at planning long-term, and immigration targets aren’t something that can be easily adjusted on a year by year or six-monthly basis, depending on new house price and inflation data. Secondly, everyone seems to be operating blind on what effect immigration even has on local house prices and inflation – the data just isn’t there.

An additional concern was the ability for the debate to slide into Winston Peters territory. And sure enough, David Cunliffe soon pulled out his dog whistle, to the consternation of most Labour activists. “It would take 80% of our housing supply just to accommodate this year’s migrants – and National is doing nothing,” intoned Mr Cunliffe.

The problem for Cunliffe was that he laid out some fairly hefty immigration targets – getting net migration numbers down from over 40,000 currently to between 5,000 and 15,000 – before realising that there was no possible way he could do that, given that the bulk of the immigration blow out has been caused by fewer Kiwis leaving the country, more returning, and more Australians coming here to live and work as the Aussie economy goes down the sinkhole. Cunliffe immediately backtracked on the idea of a finite target, and has instead resorted to waffle about “sustainable flows of migrants”, without providing any sort of indication about what he considers a sustainable flow to be.

Since then, Labour have been unable to provide any figures regarding where cuts to immigration would be made. Somewhat embarrassingly, when definite statements have been made about specific categories of immigration that would be targeted, those statements have soon been contradicted.

For example, on 28 May the Dominion Post reported Labour’s immigration spokesperson, Trevor Mallard, as saying that Labour would target the number of migrants getting work visas, as well as visas in the family reunification category. However, by yesterday, David Cunliffe was on Radio Live telling Sean Plunket, “Yep, we’ll leave family reunification out of it”.

So that leaves those arriving on work visas. According to Statistics NZ, there were about 30,000 last year, which means that if Labour slashed their numbers, they could bring net migration down to a “sustainable level”. But there’s two problems here. Firstly, how many people on work permits buy houses? I wouldn’t have thought there’d be many – but wait a minute, that’s right, we don’t have any data on that… Secondly, if those migrants are coming here to work, that’s a lot of tax that’s not going to be paid and a lot of economic activity that won’t occur. Labour had better be pretty damned sure about the level of excess inflationary pressure it aims to alleviate and just how much of an effect such a cut in work visas would have.

The other area of immigration that Labour has definitely signalled it will look at is the Investor and Investor Plus categories – those controversial categories where if you pay enough money, you get residence. Unfortunately, the numbers of those entering New Zealand as part of those categories is minuscule – 21 Investor Plus applicants and 99 Investor applicants. Frankly, I can’t see the axing of 120 millionaire immigrants per year having much effect on inflationary pressure or house prices. (That’s not to say that the English language requirements shouldn’t be tightened up, but that’s a different issue.)

The more statements Cunliffe and Mallard make on immigration, the more it looks as if they’re simply making it all up as they go along, which isn’t particularly comforting.

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.

They seek him here, they seek him there…

So, the Scarlet Pimpernel of NZ politics remains elusive. The hunt continues for the MP who has allegedly agreed to join Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party…

When Dotcom first unleashed the mystery upon an unsuspecting media, he said only that the MP was a sitting MP. There was no mention of an electorate MP, causing the finger of suspicion to hover above that paragon of ideological nothingness, Brendan Horan.

Since then, Mr Horan has denied everything, and Mr Dotcom’s language has now firmed up. This article on stuff.co.nz reports that:

Internet entrepreneur Dotcom said this afternoon that a sitting electorate MP would join the party but he would not say who the person was, what party they currently belonged to or what electorate they represented.

So… It’s now definitely an electorate MP, eh? But who? Who???

I’m stumped. I’ve just trawled through a list of every electorate MP and drawn a blank. None of them make sense. Of the major party MPs, they’re all either too tribally National or Labour, or such miserable non-entities that they surely wouldn’t gamble their political existence away on a tilt at Internet Party stardom. And of the minor party electorate MPs, it’s obviously not Hone Harawira (Dotcom has explicitly ruled him out as our Pimpernel) or John Banks. Peter Dunne doesn’t strike me as having a death-wish, and Te Ururoa Flavell sure ain’t going anywhere that Harawira might conceivably end up.

So in a wild stab in the dark, let’s point the bone of prophecy at Trevor Mallard! He’s on the outer at Labour – everyone wants him to resign, he’s lost his role as campaign manager and he’s part of the ABC club, so Cunliffe won’t give him any interesting portfolios… Must be Trevor.