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Friday, 23 June 2017

KP Repost: Many waka, one star to guide them: The Maori Party as a vehicle for Maori politics

This is the last of the KP reposts for now as we have run out of political parties (bar one) to repost and I am working on the Gareth Morgan/TOP one at this time.

In the 10 months since I wrote this and today little has changed in the public space visa a vis the political prospects for any Maori political party except that The Maori Party and Mana are still hanging in there and had a brief surge in the polls a few months back where they jumped to 4% (up from 1% or less) before slumping back to 1% a month later.

And while housing, immigration, the environment, badly behaved politicians and all the rest get time in the media Maori politics and issues usually do not. 

This is, in part, because the ruckus around Waitangi Day this year seemed to present things as a tangled web of conflicting views and voices that had no hope of being solved but mostly because the NZ media just does not cover Maori political issues like every other political (or potentially political) issue.

In in the last 10 months I have taken every opportunity I had to talk to people (Maori and Pakeha) about their views on the situation and while there were no common positions one common theme kept coming up: the gap between tribal and urban Maori and where the wealth from the Treaty of Waitangi really seems to be going (read: the tribal elites).

Its not an issue I am going to get into now but its definitely one I am interested in because with NZ being run by a greedy elite dedicated to slash and burn austerity, benefit the rich only, politics it might make some sense if those ideas ideas and views might proliferate in the tribal elites as well.

But the issue in this post is can Mana/Maori make something of their alliance in this election and the 4% jump a while back indicated that there is potential but its needs to be on polling day to have any effect.

I like the fact that Tuku Morgan has a plan but its the execution of that plan I think might be at fault and the current mood of the electorate is all about punishing the old and arrogant while rewarding whatever populist speaker who shouts the loudest and nothing I have seen indicates that Maori are immune to that particular mood or that Tuku has figured out how to crank up such a populist stance.

Also this is the most famous post I ever wrote for KP as it ended up being part of one of Bryce Edwards political roundups; my proudest moment as a blogger.

This post has taken a while to write, mostly because there was not much to actually write about without straying into territory that was a lot deeper than I wished to go (something Chris Trotter noted recently in the media) but also because the subject in question, the Maori Party, has not been around as long as most of the other political parties and as such does not have as much of a history that people might want to read about in a blog post such as this.

But things have taken a turn recently and there has been a spate of activity within the party and the subsequent media focus, so suddenly there has been a lot more material to work with which means that a post I was putting off can now be completed.

To begin the recent outburst of media activity seems to relate to the party gearing up for the election in 2017 with the olive branch being extended to Hone Harawira and Mana, the Maori King saying he would not vote Labour and the party refusing to support Helen Clark’s bid for UN secretary general.

Whose behind all this seems to be Tukoroirangi (Tuku)Morgan, through his election as the president of the party. Morgan was previously an adviser to the Maori King (which goes a long way to explaining why the King might suddenly bag Labour in his speech) and his recent comments in the media about rebuilding the party and winning back all seven Maori electorate seats from Labour fit in nicely with the current tone of the messages the party is sending.

All of this is a clear signal that Labour won’t be able to count on the support of the Maori Party come the next election (something which John Key has welcomed) and that the party wishes to re-build the bridges with Harawira (something which Key has not welcomed) and that that the losses of Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia in leadership have not been made good with the addition of Tu Ururoa Flavell or Marama Fox.

And part of the problem with the party is leadership. Flavell and Fox have not really filled the shoes left by Sharples and Turia (at least not yet) and it looks like the task has fallen on Morgan’s shoulders to do the strategic thinking for them. It’s not that Fox and Flavell are doing a bad job steering the party’s ship but for a party becalmed in the polls and electorate there has to be more than a steady as she goes approach on the tiller**.

Currently the party has two MPs in parliament by virtue of Flavell winning the Maori electorate seat of Waiariki and bringing Fox in with him as a list MP. All of the six remaining Maori electorate seats are currently in Labour hands.

In the polls, the party has languished around the 1% mark for so long that they are now in the same position as Peter Dunne and United Future; reliant on a single seat in marginal circumstances for access to parliament.

Policy wise the party can claim to have had some successes with Whanau Ora programme and related funding aspects and while there have been some minor successes in respect to their other policy planks (health especially but also in housing, employment and family violence) these have yet to translate into either the general or Maori electorates, as increases in their polling.

Another problem is that there have been nearly a dozen different vehicles for Maori politics in the last 45 years. From Labour in the 80s (until the fallout over the economic reforms), to NZ First in 96 (when the scooped all Maori electorate seats), to the various splinter parties that formed out of the Tight Five when they left NZ First to a range of others (including representation in ACT and National (although how genuine these were is questionable)) which makes the Maori Party just the current vehicle in a long list of vehicles for representing Maori in Parliament.

So at this time Morgan’s actions to beef the party up are definitely needed but have yet to show any fruit.

Nothing seems to have come out of their overtures to Mana (and given Hone Harawira’s dislike of National and the Maori party’s alliance with them as well as the internal squabbles which lead to him leaving and forming Mana (now dead in the polls after its bizarre alliance with Kim Dotcom) it seems that the band will not be getting back together soon.

The attacks on Labour also may yet backfire given that the majority of the Maori electorate seems to prefer Labour to the Maori Party at this time and how much influence the Maori King has is not currently clear. Perhaps in time his words will have an effect but the issue may be less the message and more the medium (the King) as in other countries, royalty usually tries to appear neutral or apolitical for good reason (that being that once you choose sides its somewhat hard to reverse position and if your horse does not win, then you no longer have friends in the big house).

So 10 out of 10 to Morgan for taking action but minus several million*** for not thinking things through because the real issue, which seems to have dogged the Maori party is somewhat the same as the situation into which they have put the King; that being a partisan one.

The formation of the Maori Party was in direct relation to Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed Legislation in the mid 2000’s and the party remained in opposition until National took power where it decided to throw in its lot with them. This lead to the party getting into government (a definite success) and the previously mentioned policy successes but at the cost of playing the partisan card.

In the case of the other political parties such partisan antics are normal and can be suspended when there is general common ground (the recent security and intelligence legislation is a good example) but since the Maori party is formed around a defined racial and not political core this has issues.

As the parties own goals/kuapapa state, the project of the party is to represent all Maori and to respect all parties but in these circumstances, by coming out swinging at Labour, they have done just the opposite. This is not likely to resonate well with any Maori who have voted Labour (or Green or even NZ First) in either the Maori or general electorates.

And with 16% of the population identifying as Maori and the party’s own 1% polling this means that there are more people this message will drive away than appeal to.

The party’s siding with National has never sat well with many people and Sharples and Turia have defended it in the past by pointing to the successes they achieved only by being in parliament, something which I agree with, but by playing such a partisan position now and signalling no future co-operation with Labour they have (whether they believe it or not) just shifted the party out of the middle and well towards the right.

Now there is no valid argument for saying that National is anti-Maori but it would be hard to defend the range of National government policies which have had negative outcomes for Maori in both the current and previous National Governments.

Conversely there is no real argument to say that Labour is pro-Maori but the biggest bone of contention between Labour and Maori seems to be the previously mentioned foreshore and seabed issue and the biggest reservoir of angst over that seems to be the Maori party itself rather than the Maori electorate.

In short Tuku “underpants” Morgan may have just cut the Maori Party’s throat in a well-meaning but ultimately suicidal plan to bring the party back to life. The party currently lives on Flavells single seat alone and I would bet my bottom dollar that Labour will be campaigning hard in that electorate in 2017 to remove it from him seeing that there is no room for compromise in the other camp.

So come the 2017 election we may see the Maori Party waka run aground on rocks that were on the chart but ignored due to hubris or bad captaining. The problem being that in and of itself the party was one of the better vehicles for bringing Maori issues into parliament than many of the others. The star to which they all steer is always the same but the vehicles do not seem to be able to complete the voyage.

*-knowing my luck probably sooner rather than later.

**-Yes I was trying to pack in as many nautical metaphors as possible.

***-Zaphod Beeblebrox in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Thursday, 22 June 2017

You had one job Andrew, just one job!

In my last post I noted that if, in the wake of Tape-Gate, Andrew Little still had a spin doctor he should call them!

The idea being that with National on the ropes over all the dirt being uncovered, now would be a awesome time for Little and Labour to help reinforce that message by some Labour flavored spin.

So either Andrew did make that call and somehow the message to "get some coverage for Labour" in the wake of Todd Barclay and Tape-Gate was not specific enough (needing to add the word "positive" to the instruction) or he hasn't and is now wishing he had.

Because while not the Dirty Politics level of the Todd Barclay scandal this little piece of news does not look good (given how Labour is supposedly against exploitation of foreign students and wants to shut such things down) and is a useful distraction (for National) from the grubby goings on in Southland and Wellington.

Its almost like Labour plans these things.

Nothing more to say.

#stunnedjuststunned.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Elections 2017: Why the Todd Barclay scandal could turn out to be the theme of this campaign


Last night thousands of political junkies across NZ lay back in their seats, closed their eyes and let the waves of bliss wash across their bodies as they got their first hit of the pure stuff in a long, long while.

And they have Todd “won’t talk to the Police” Barclay to thank for it.

Because Barclay, in creating this scandal, has delivered a midget submarine’s worth of pure uncut dirty politics onto the streets and ended the drought of political news which had been the norm for the last few months.

And the political junkies rejoiced!

No longer will said junkies have to desperately scan the newspaper or blogs for fragments of the good stuff; no more will they have glazed eyes and dulled brains as they stumble along, day after day, in a wretched existence, getting by on watered down political news cut with everything from sports to entertainment just so they could get out of bed in the morning and face another dull day.

Because, today, right there on the front page of my paper and all over the blogs was nothing but Todd Barclay and Bill English, pure, uncut and ready to be injected.

And let’s be clear here, this is big news (no matter how much Kiwiblog tries to play it down) and in an election campaign where no big issue has yet to raise its head and set the tone of the debate this has all the potential of becoming that “big issue”.

Last election we had Kim Dotcom and the Internet party to fixate the voting populace and other elections have seen similar things (The Teapot tapes, Dirty Politics etc).

Thus far, 2017 has had absolutely nothing which has really caught the public eye and got people talking about the election but with nothing else to talk about, Todd Barclay, Bill English and National have become that topic by the default.

Just the rush of articles which appeared yesterday on both Stuff and The NZ Herald was amazing and shows just how starved the media was for some real political news.

Nothing else so far this year has seen such direct attention or laser like focus and unlike issues such as immigration or the environment which can have people on both sides of the line there is nothing about the behavior of Barclay or English which is good.

Let’s list those behaviors shall we:

·         Barclay taped a staff member without them knowing (ILLEGAL)
·         Barclay refused to speak to the Police on the matter (DODGY)
·         National paid hush money to the staff member (SUSPECT)
·         Barclay appears to have rigged the deck in his favor at his selection to be the local candidate for Clutha/Southland with family members and friends (SUSPECT AND POSSIBLY AGAINST PARTY RULES)
·         Barclay appears to have provided false and misleading information on his candidate form by not declaring the above issues (IMMORAL AND SUSPECT)
·         Barclay may have mislead Bill English (SKEEZY)
·         Bill English appears to have mislead the public (STUPID AND SKEEZY)
·         National appears to have had an internal investigation into the matter but with no outcome (WHATS NEW IN TOY TOWN?)

And that is just what we know; we still don’t know what actual issues led to the taping or what else lurks awaiting discovery.

Also, none of the above are vague or ambiguous in their character, all of them look wrong, all of them smell bad and all of them are just the kind of thing people associate with National.

How many times have National party MPs been caught out in a scandal?

So many times in fact that the words “National Party” and “Scandal” go together very easily.

There has been the Nick Smith Scandal, The Maurice Williamson Scandal, the Judith Collins Scandal, the Mike Sabine Scandal, The Pansy Wong scandal, Immigration scandals, the MPI scandal, the million dollar citizenship scandal, the SERCO/Fight-club scandal, the Alfred Ngaro scandal and so on and so forth.

That also ignores more serious scandals like the John Key’s lawyer shilling for foreign money scandal, The Tim Grosser/GCSB scandal, The Ministry of Health Scandal, The Hit and Run scandal, The Housing hernia, water, mental health and any situation where a National party MP or Prime minister has been caught doing or saying something they should not have (which are legion).

So with an election not far away and nothing else of note to focus on Todd Barclay has brought all his (and his party’s) dirty laundry front and center to create a grotesque  and torrid display, in full public view with nothing or no-one (again excepting Kiwiblog’s attempts to spin this down) to distract from the grubby spectacle unfolding.

And that could be more than enough to set the tone of the election cycle to an examination of the current government (and their foul behaviors) as the default setting for discussion right up to polling day with nary any other event to distract them.

Bill English knows this as well but so far has been unable to behave as his old lord and master would have by simply moving to fix the issue (read: have Todd fall (or be thrown) on his sword) or simply move on to another issue as a means of distraction (of which there are none at this point).

There is no Rugby World Cup to steer people away, no crazed opposition party to galvanize National voters in defense of the blue flag, no clear and present danger to the nation which can un-focus public attention on Todd Barclay and his behaviors.

English stalled, like a deer in the headlights, of yesterday’s press conference before figuring out four hours later that he was compromised if caught in his own lie and suddenly started remembering matters.

Unfortunately (for Bill)  it was too late and I can’t imagine a story starved media letting this go just yet as there is far too much meat left on the bone.

For me, the look on Bills face yesterday was a man whose mind was going back to the election of 2002, where he lead National to a hideous beating in the polls, and was desperately trying to suppress those thoughts when faced with a media scrum of suddenly energized political junkies looking to score.

And it would not be too difficult to imagine Bill (or his spin doctors) pacing back and forwards in his office, rapidly wearing out the carpet, while desperately muttering “What would John do?” as they try to figure out an escape.

But even if English posted a video on social media showing him making a gluten free, vegan, pizza while discussing raising the minimum wage with a Syrian refugee, it would not be enough to distract from this scandal.

This could be Bill English’s Theresa May/Brexit moment as he and the party find the narrative of the election slipping away from them and with them as they become “the issue” which the nation uses to help decide which way to vote. Andrew Little, if you still have a spin-doctor, call them immediately!

If English sacrifices Barclay that would be the quickest and safest option but even then that still has its perils and again with nothing else to focus on that might not be enough to throw the media off the scent of a story.

So, if like me, you are a political junkie then you will probably have a spring in your step today as the drought has ended and we are now most certainly in the last phase of this election because the antics of Barclay and English have kicked off the final third act whether they know it or not.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Elections 2017: Is the rumor of Shane Jones taking over NZ First really true?

I originally wrote this as a piece about Jones joining NZ First in September but after waiting and waiting for it to happen I have rejigged it as you read it now.

Ghastly rumors, scandalous gossip and salacious innuendo; you hear it all if you live in Wellington and work in government for any amount of time.

The tight knit government sector and the village feel of the city, along with the copious amounts of caffeine that fuels daily activity, creates a seething witches cauldron out of which all sorts of strange and interesting things come.

Many of these are the sort of bizarre conglomeration of random facts, scraps of overheard conversations and spurious speculation that bubble up from the minds of bored civil servants who are disengaged at work and have nothing better to do than seethe quietly at their desk while actively feeding the rumor mill by gabbing across the partition, or via their keyboard (and yes, I get the irony of this statement).

Others though, turn out to be true even when they sound bizarre or unbelievable and often echo Mark Twain’s idea that “truth is stranger than fiction”* making it difficult to know which crazy story or weird factiod is real and which is not.

In my five years in Wellington I heard a lot of crazy stuff; much of which sounded like pure science fiction as it contained the usual mix of prominent politicians or civil servants, strange events, convoluted liaisons and a range of motivations seemingly pulled from the latest episode of Game of Thrones and all spiced with enough conspiracy to give Ian Wishart a run for his money.

And with any tight knit village environment a juicy little nugget of info could do the rounds in a morning, spreading from section to section of one area of government before making the leap to other departments before boiling over into Facebook and various blogs online,  making triangulating the source of the story hard and its veracity more so.

Just because you heard it from multiple sources does not make it true when the Wellington rumor mill is working overtime but conversely just because you can’t figure its origin does not mean it’s just the workings of some crazed mind as secrets in Wellington (and often in NZ) are often open-secrets and sometimes it’s just a case of knowing the right people to verify the story.

Luckily (because I am a gregarious social butterfly outside of work hours) I have multiple friends and contacts in all manner of interesting places who can often provide first-hand accounts of the behavior and manners of the “important people” in Wellington.

From my upstairs neighbors, who worked at Weta Workshop, I was able to hear personal details of Peter Jackson’s near to nervous breakdowns while making the Hobbit movies.

My Barista mate in a Wellington cafe told me of the drug running background of one prominent Wellington family which when mixed in with their political and property connections made for mind-blowing conversations about who and what may be funding various sports teams in the capital.

From my friend Q I have been regaled about tales of the various goings on in Parliament which include the usual peccadillo's of sexual behavior and assorted drug use of MPs and party staffers, up to the interesting (and sometimes bizarre) goings on in the Speakers apartment on top of Parliament**

Then, via my neighbor up the street*** when I lived in Brooklyn, I herd tales about her work as a high class “mistress” for several powerful individuals in government and what they like to get up to in their free time which often played out like that one scene in Pulp Fiction (you know the one).

And from my good friend D I have been regaled with all sorts of info about her time inside the security services, where despite having a number of prominent female managers and heads, the old boy sexist culture can still prevail and the allegiance of many is firmly towards the five eyes network over that of any nation or government.

Finally there is my work colleague T, who is well up in the National Party, is always a good source of information about what the party and its inhabitants are thinking or planing.

Was everything they told me true? Maybe, maybe not but every time I heard another one of these tales I filed it away and compared it later on when something that seemed related came up.

In the end the best determinant of a rumor was not its source or content but its persistence, anything that stayed around long enough in an environment where new rumors and gossip arose every day usually ended up under the old rule of where there is smoke there is fire.

Such long running rumors usually persist because there are facts scattered here and there which, when clicked into the story, help give it currency if not totally validate them but ensure that they are able to go through the mill again and as such those little details are added to the next iteration of the product to help keep it alive.

But in Wellington most open secrets remain secret as the media usually will not run with them. In some cases this is understandable and definitely the best option but in others such rumors can lead to bigger things and what might be termed “real news” rather than just salacious gossip akin to something in the tabloids.

And of all the rumors doing the rounds in parliament the ones that usually surface the most are those purely political rumors which are much safer to get into print without being sued for defamation (ala Colin Craig) but may still be nothing more than a load of codswallop.

Examples*4 of political rumors that persist include the various speculations around the sudden departure of John Key, leadership coup rumors in The Labour Party, discussion of the “real” changes taking place in the Greens and my particular favorite: Who is taking over NZ First when Winston Peters retires?

This is one of the most persistent of rumors in NZ politics today. It crops up again and again whenever there is some sniff that it might happen.

Yet for all its persistence it’s also, in my opinion, one of the least credible rumors out there for a number of reasons I will discuss below.

Firstly the basis for this rumor seems to come down to a single source: Mathew Hooton, who scored some credibility when he discussed, in 2014, Shane Jones leaving Labour before Jones actually jumped ship (in the wake of his failed leadership bid) and who then followed it up later with the prediction that Jones would be joining NZ First.

From there it’s remained on permanent rotation in the media and come up whenever there seems to be any possibility that it would happen but never with any further information to support it apart from statements about “rumors” or “hints” being dropped, even by Jones himself most recently, but never with any further validation to them.

The worst offender is Patrick Gower with his article from February this year where the appearance of Jones at a speech by Winston was “a clear sign that he is planning a return to politics this election”.

But Gower is not alone and it’s been repeated time and again and always with no actual substance. Jones recently finished his cushy stint as kept boy diplomat for National after leaving Labour and the speculative articles started up again.

And even with coverage of Jones recent comments in the media about his former masters immigration policies (calling them “conceited”*5) still managed to add to the rumors and speculation while confirming once and for all that he is a political mercenary par excellence.

But that’s what these things will remain (rumors and speculation) until there is an actual statement of Jones joining NZ First because he can drop hints all he likes but with just over three months till polling day time is running out and there are reasons below why Jones heading NZ first seem problematic at best and just an outright bomb at worst.

The biggest of the reasons is that there has been almost no word from Winston on a succession plan for the party and for all intents and purposes there is never going to be one as NZ first is Winston and vice versa.

The idea that NZ First will soldier on post Winston has as much credibility as The Alliance post Jim Anderton; United Future after Peter Dunne; The Opportunities Party without Gareth Morgan; The Internet Party minus Kim Dotcom; the Conservatives sans Colin Craig and ACT lacking David Seymour.

Then there is the fact that anyone who wants to keep the party afloat following Winston’s retirement has to get past the harsh political reality that it’s been his (Winston's) vehicle since the get go and it floundered without him in Parliament before he came back with his win in Northland and like the other one man parties, that have carved out some small niche in NZ politics, probably wont last long after that “man” leaves.

Additionally there is the “Never Shane” section of NZ First that has vehemently opposed the idea that Shane Jones will ever be part of NZ First let alone being the leader of it and while these people may not be all of the party its clear than there is more than enough potential opposition to drag the party down with fractious infighting should Jones ever step inside its bounds.

And with an election looming what party leader (excepting Andrew Little) is going to invite open dissent or even revolt in the ranks by bringing a contentious candidate into the party mix (as Little did by bringing Willie Jackson into the party in February)?

Winston may be a political hack but he is not an idiot and he knows that with the party rising in the polls he would be inviting nothing but a decline in said polling if he was to break open the party over a candidate or new leader like Jones.

Especially when you consider that the idea of Jones being announced as the new leader of the party immediately prior to the election might (and it’s a very stretched “might”) work for a major party which is not reliant on single person to gain vote share but will immediately kill of any Winston related support as voters realize that the person they are voting for won’t even be round post-election.

Then there is the technical issue of Jones getting access to the party as its current rules prevent him from just parachuting down like Rambo into the jungle and taking over (although I do like the idea of Jones, with red bandana and bare chest covered by ammo belts, stalking around with a heavy weapon and menacing the members of the NZ First like a bunch of small town cops out of their depth).

And even if Winston decides to roll the dice before the election, rejig the rules to get Jones in, quell dissent in the ranks and somehow convince the voters that Jones is the one true savior of the middle NZ voter when he leaves he still has to get past long standing NZ First MP and member, and current 2IC, Ron Mark.

Sure Mark knows his limits and probably does not think he could helm the party himself but he has made plenty of time riding on Winston’s coat-tails and even been elected Mayor of Carterton in the past so if he has a future outside of Parliament it is probably there but it seems unlikely that he would risk all his time and effort in the party to give up an opportunity to head it (doomed or not) over some jumped up little upstart who happened to get the job just because he knows the old man.

And like some demented form of fan fiction*7 it would be fun to image Jones and Mark facing off in some grotty sawdust pit, surrounded by a crowd braying for blood while “Two Tribes” plays in the background.

But like the quintessential “who would win in a fair fight” debate between star trek fans about Captain Kirk vs Captain Picard*6 its really just speculation and would do no actual good to the greater whole.

So again, with an election looming is Winston crazy enough to gamble his party’s fortunes on bringing in a ringer for the big game, breaking the rules, pissing off half the team, isolating the star quarterback and potentially alienating fans just because he thinks his “guy” has enough mojo to offset all those negative factors?

Thus as I said before, and will say again, Winston Peters (say it with me) may be a lot of things but crazy is not one of them.

Finally there is all the digging I have done in an attempt to bring some basis to this rumor and despite trying every avenue and contact I had no one was able to bring any further information to situation than what keeps cropping up in the media.

There is one scenario where I can see Jones taking over NZ first but it is not pre-election and not with Winston around.

And while Winston still has a few years left in him I don’t think he wants to spend them in opposition so this election is his best chance to get into government before his time runs out and he sails of into the sunset.

An election outcome where he and NZ First are cut out would probably snap his mind and send him over the edge; that he has always skated along anyway, into the political abyss because I have always felt that he spent the last of his Mojo in getting Northland and his low key approach and lax media coverage this election show that he is both slowing down and his act is wearing out.

Winston’s brand of reactionary populism is less likely to cut it in this day and age (with it boiling up everywhere) so he is going to be gambling all on making it big this election and selling his 10% plus to the highest bidder.

If he gets what he wants then he is back for another three years and watch out NZ; but if NZ First can’t make the grade or National has enough elsewhere to go it without him then that’s it for Winston and NZ First.

Thus sooner or later Winston will leave politics and when he does he might bequeath the party to Jones as a parting gift but it’s only a gift in the same way that getting a dose of the clap is a “gift” as no-one is going to want to vote for NZ First without Winston and no-one is going to want to vote for Jones in any number to make up for the loss of Winston.

So I could be wrong and Jones is going to join NZ First at some point but I will believe it when I see it and even if I do end up seeing it I wont believe it as nothing about Jones joining the party has any merit except the fact that he is a mate of Winston and that Mathew Hooton sure knows how to spin a good story*8.


*-He also adds “…but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t”
**- Didn’t know it was there? Next time you are on the grounds out front have a look up at it. Its’ that extra level set above the main level of the parliament building.
***-I met this lady because our daughters were of similar age and played together on weekends. She was relatively open about what she did and made enough money to own her house freehold and have her extremely expensive Agent Provocateur lingerie insured for several thousand dollars as a business expense.
*4-In this instance I mean rumors which directly relate to politics and not to the sexual or social behaviors of MPs.
*5 which is not the first word I would use to describe the current immigration policies of NZ
*6 the correct answer, of course, is Captain Kirk.
*7 Jones would have the size, weight and reach, but Mark is ex-military and probably have a few CQB (Close Quarters Battle) tricks up his sleeve so I would probably put my money of Mark beating Jones.
*8-Hooton has been taken to task before on his "story telling" and the best examples are here and here.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Can Andrew Little and Labour NZ make hay out of Corbyn and Labours win in the UK?

Short answer to this question is no. 

Different countries, different political systems (FPP vs MMP) and different political cultures and histories all add up to no direct correlation between there and here.

The mid to long term answer is “yes, but…” as the global mood across much of the democratic west has been one of angry populism and punishment for establishment politicians for a while now.


So the question needs to focus less on the yes and more on the “but” to find an answer.

The Numbers

And it would help if we look at how things actually turned out in the UK to see if we can translate what was in effect a “shock outcome”*.

Labour                     Seats      262                 Increase/Decrease       +32     
Conservatives          Seats      318                 Increase/Decrease      -13
Scot Nat Party         Seats      35                    Increase/Decrease      -19
Lib Dems                 Seats      12                   Increase/Decrease      +3
Others                      Seats      23                   Increase/Decrease       -3

And under a FPP system it’s the seats that count so alone the Conservatives are well ahead of Labour but when you add in all the other parties, especially the SNP which is not fond of the Conservatives in the wake of the previous failed Scottish Secession vote, it’s a lot closer and the margin shrinks to less 25 seats. Add in the Lib Dems and its even less.

This gives us, under the mechanics of FPP in the UK, a hung parliament but more on that later.

What’s even more revealing is the vote share and change from the previous election which is as follows:

CON     42.4%                Change +5.5%
LAB     40.0%                 Change + 9.5%
LD        7.4%                  Change -0.5%
SNP      3.0%                  Change -1.7%
UKIP     1.8%                 Change -10.8%
GRN     1.6%                  Change – 2.1%

Also interesting are the turnout figures which 68.7% which was a 2% increase on 2015 and the fact that vote share for the two main parties was the highest since 1970s.

Finally the geographic vote spread which saw three very clear areas for voters in the UK, with London being firmly Labour, the South of England being firmly Tory and the North being for the Scottish National Party and Labour.

All the data used for these numbers can be found here on the BBC website.

The Analysis

So what do these numbers show if we step back a bit from the raw metrics?

The first and most obvious is the large swing towards the left with Labour getting an extra 9.5% of the vote and 32 extra seats. It also shows that while the Conservatives increased vote share (at +5.5%) they lost seats which indicates more people leaving them than coming in seats which they lost.

And that swing happened due to the fact that parties like UKIP lost 10.8% of the vote (and its one seat) so while many of those voters would have gone back to vote Tory the Tories were losing even more voters to Labour as many punters were simply “passing through” on the way to vote for Corbyn and Labour.

Thus for every extra voter that Theresa May and the Conservatives got Labour got almost double and the biggest shift was from the far Right towards the Left.

Also as many minor parties were either wiped out or severely reduced we can see that it was not a case of votes bleeding out to minor parties but instead voters coalescing around the two main parties.

then with the increased turnout and the consolidation of votes into the big two we see a polarization of opinions into two binary choices and the erosion of certain “middle ground” or fringe opinions and the related destruction or reduction of various small parties which were born out of those opinions.

In short the death of small parties, goodbye middle ground and the return to the two party politics of the past**.

But as the UK has a FPP system these results are skewed somewhat by the mechanics particular to FPP rather than how things would be under MMP which would see the Conservatives beaten by a Labour/Lib Dem/SNP coalition.

Therefore who (or what) gets to decide who is the next government? Under FPP the crown of being kingmaker has fallen on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which has the 10 seats to push May and the Conservatives over the line into a majority of seats in the house and thus secure power.

And the DUP being more conservative than the Conservatives means that those 10 seats are locked in and Labour and Corbyn are piped at the post.

What a difference an electoral system makes.

The Bigger Picture

But lets take a further step back and ask why was there such a major and unexpected shift to the Left.

On the negative side Theresa May and the Conservatives judged badly, that, in the wake of Brexit, the mood of the electorate would be calm enough to stand another critical vote of confidence. Seems it was not but given that Brexit went against expectations I am not sure what the logic (if any) was.

Also with the recent terror attacks where it was revealed that most of the suspects were already on watch lists, had been repeatedly reported by members of their own communities to the authorities as being concerns and that May herself was responsible for major cutbacks in Police numbers (as head of the Home Office) under the ever popular "austerity" measures and things did not look good when it became clear that the police were simply too stretched to do anything about it.

Then there was May’s decreasing popularity and the fact that she avoided public speaking and even one debate against Corbyn.

In short the Conservatives stumbled badly, read the mood incorrectly and did the classic tortoise and the hare scenario for the expected results. May won’t make alive it to the next election.

On the flip-side Corbyn and Labour made major capital of this election even if they did not win because despite his naysayers (which are now reduced even further and probably are a distinct minority now) he has solidified his leadership even further, battle tested it and the party, on the hustings and shown that a positive message of change for a better future can resonate with voters.

And it was as simple as that.

If conservatives (in all countries) get to corner the market on things like pragmatism and being “realistic” then liberals get exclusive rights talk about dreams and hopes all by themselves and if Labour had lost its way during the Blairite years it was because those ideas and concepts were given up in favor of a "middle ground" approach which was little more than the same message of realism/pragmatism that the Tories were shilling but with less credibility.

But Jeremy Corbyn killed that idea stone cold dead when he took over and started saying things about dreams, hopes and a better future once again.

Of course it would be unfair to say it’s all due to Corbyn but a lot of this outcome is. He held on in the face of multiple attempts to remove him and took his position to the public in the truest test there is and all the sour grapes in the UK (and there seem to be quite a lot of them) can’t change that. The results speak for themselves.

But what about NZ?

So finally we can ask ourselves about that “yes, but…” answer to our question we were discussing earlier.

Can Andrew Little and Labour do the same here?

To start they don’t have to worry about the FPP hurdle and that means that if they make up the kind of ground that Labour and Corbyn did in the last month of polling then they are home and hosed as UK polls had Labour 20 points behind and that is roughly the numbers that Labour NZ need to beat any combination of National and another party come September.

But because this is MMP there is unlikely to be such titanic shifts in vote share as the UK had simply because parties like the Lib Dems and UKIP picked up votes due to voter frustration with FPP mechanics and then angrily switched when their chosen party couldn't translate that vote share into power or do what the Lib Dems did and go into coalition with the one party they should not have (the Conservatives) when being handed the kingmaker crown on a silver platter***.

Therefore in NZ it’s unlikely that there will be any sudden shift of up to 20% in voters from one party to another as both the smaller parties like The Greens and NZF are locked in and able to translate those votes into some form of result (although that may be less the case for the Greens now as they wrestle with the tar-baby that is translating their 12-15% into genuine political power) and the stability of MMP offsets such FPP related outcomes.

Then there is the leadership question.

Andrew Little is no Jeremy Corbyn (see the links in my previous post) and as Labour NZ is still playing the middle ground/pragmatism card like it’s the 1990s or early 2000s and as such no message that Andrew or the party puts out will resonate like Corbyn and UK Labours did if they keep on that way.

And because I have bashed Andrew Little so much for his terrible leadership skills in the past I will say no more here and just encourage you to read any previous posts I have written about him.

Labour NZ has yet to deal with the horrid stain that is 1984, and as I have argued many times before, until they do, they remain stuck waiting for a big draw leader like Helen Clark (perhaps someone with the initials of J.A.) to enthuse voters over to their side because no message they send says “bright new future for all” when they are couching everything in the realpolitik market-speak which was outdated when it was coming out of Michael Cullen’s mouth.

So in the end the “yes” gets trumped by the “but” and we remain in thrall to whatever Winston Peters has planned for us****.

Which is a shame because if Labour was to make a genuine Mea Culpa for 84 we could see the “yes” trump the “but...”*5.

All it needs is a genuine leader willing to dream big and steer the party out of the doldrums it has been in for the last decade.

I wonder if Jeremy Corbyn has any relatives living in New Zealand?


*-Although when you consider the potential pitfalls of putting a vote to the public in the wake of the last “vote to the public” that lead to BREXIT you might want to consider the “wisdom” of such a view that such an outcome was a “shock”.
**-At least for now.
***-This is the dilemma that Winston and NZF face this election.
****-No matter how many times I twist my analysis on NZ politics it always keeps coming back to Winston, it’s frustrating as hell.
*5-No pun intended but now that I think about it…

Friday, 9 June 2017

I'm going to bed excited tonight because of Jeremy Corbyn!*

Don't get me wrong readers but as my two previous posts on the man show (Viva Corbyn! and Viva Corbyn Pt II; both from last year) show I like what he is doing and most (but not all) of his views and policies.

Which means that by the time I wake up tomorrow we will know if he, and UK Labour, will have won the general election there.

Current vote counts are still early days but they show Labour ahead of the Tories and that in itself is an amazing change from a few months ago when the polls showed Theresa May ahead by up to 20 points in the polls.

I wont write much more but I can probably guess what Andrew Little will be doing tonight and sleeping wont be it because if Corbyn wins it will have an effect on things here come September and more directly Labour NZs fortunes.

But as I note in my Pt II post not everything between NZ Labour and UK Labour are the same (specially when it comes to their leaders) but there is enough of a whiff of FukYoo Politix to put steam in Andrew Little's stride if Corbyn wins and induce a few brown moments in Bill English.

Of course this might not happen but I will be saying my prayers extra hard tonight, just in case.


*-Any perceived sexual innuendo in this post is entirely due to your own dirty minds, not mine. You should be ashamed!

Saturday, 3 June 2017

KP Repost: Peter Dunne - New Zealand’s Most Successful Politician?



This is one of my favorite posts from my short stint at KP last year and after reading Brian Edwards recent post about the man* it was pleasant to find that we were of similar opinions regarding him.

And for Peter, the 2017 election is going to be crucial as Labour is fielding a determined candidate in Dunne's electorate and its clear that there is going to be no room for Peter in a Labour/Little government if they can at all avoid it.

And I think that why we have seen Peter in the media recently, desperately advocating for medicinal marijuana because what the hell else is he got left to peddle to the electorate? That's right, nothing!

So it would be an understatement to say that Dunne and United Future (his political front party) are heading for the high jump at speed this time and with the numbers getting tighter and tighter (current polls have National fractionally ahead of a Labour/Greens front) there is a very high chance that National will be eyeing up his electorate rather than allow another political parasite hold it on their behalf (they already have that with ACT in Epsom) and seek to head off Labour at the pass by cannibalizing it for themselves.

In fact I will be watching Dunne's electorate and Epsom very closely this election, if only for the sheer thrill of watching both of these guys sweat at the prospect of their cushy number being removed (at least Dunne can retire**; Seymour on the other hand will be walking the street the day after his WINZ benefit is canceled).

But Dunne is a survivor and he has been through this before but as Mr Durden says "on a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero". Dunne is no exception. 
 

Word around the campfire (several campfires in fact) is that Peter Dunne is a good minister.

I open with this little bit of information to be fair in the information I present (yeah right!) and to balance out my following assessment of him.

You see, unlike my other research into political parties and the individuals that compose them (a process which usually consists of me trolling the internet, checking my library, badgering my sources and “polling” those around me for a general opinion of the situation) I did not turn up the usual treasure trove of data, Wellington gossip, internet foot prints or scathing rants attached to the Peter or the United Future Party.

Oh to be sure there were some juicy slabs of salacious gossip abounding but none which could be verified beyond even the merest rumor and as such I decided to leave such things out and focus on what I actually could confirm by more than one source.

Which lead to a surprising amount of people, from many places in government, having nothing but praise for the man in his role as both current (DIA) and previous (IRD) ministerial positions (and various sub and acting ministerial roles).

It seems that Peter Dunne is the kind of minister that Chief Executives and Permanent Secretaries like (except for those truly aspiring to be Sir Humphrey Appleby) as he is intelligent enough to know the material, studious enough to know it in detail, pragmatic enough to take advice given and principled enough still make decisions in line with the party ideals and general values.

Dunne is not one of those ministers that require vast amounts of baby-sitting (Sam Lotu-Liga in the wake of the Serco debacle and his rapid removal from the corrections portfolio to something much much safer (and far less important); the Local Government portfolio); is a power hungry profiteer (Steven Joyce); dangerously ignorant (Murray McCully and Jerry Brownlee) or one of those empty political vessels which then become an avatar of greed, avarice and naked ambition (Judith Collins and most of the remaining vermin in cabinet).

All of which soon overwhelmed my own preconceived notions of him as a bow tie wearing political hack who simply went whatever which way the winds were blowing and who was now a dangerous relic helping to prop up an increasingly unpopular government.

It was my good friend Q who pointed out one night over drinks that while Dunne was all of those things that I believed he was (and Q should know having spent a good deal of time actually walking the halls of parliament playing nurse maid to its many skeezy denizens in both Labour and National governments) he also had many of the better points I have listed above and while still a political creature he could be considered “one of the better examples of the breed”.

On first hearing this I nearly choked on my drink as Q, while the perfect example of the legal/rational devil’s advocate type that can be found in Wellington if you look hard enough, was not known for laying out such glowing endorsements for MPs without an equal measure of dirty laundry culled from his time as first hand witness to their grubby behaviors.

But there was no skid marked Y-fronts to be found this time and I had to accept the fact if I was looking for examples of the usual slimy tendencies that politicians display I would be better suited to look elsewhere.

And so it went, time and again, over drinks, dinner and in the tea-break small talk between meetings which make up the bulk of the time any actual work in Wellington is achieved (for further details I direct the reader to Parkinson’s Law). Same story, again and again; competent minister, rational individual, good to work for and such and so forth.

Which meant that by the time I came to write this I felt compelled to open in the manner I just have which for me is a hard thing to do. I rate politicians just above pedophiles and just below lawyers.

But the subconscious nag which kept running in the back of my mind that accepting Minister Dunne as some sort of silver slipper bobbing among the turds in the parliamentary toilet bowl was wrong just would not go away.

So it was time to put some Jazz on the turntable, pop open a few beers, lie back on the couch in my usual meditative (or just plain lazy) position (fingers in the traditional Monty Burns “excellent!” manner) and think things through.

So after a few Montheiths and several sides of Donald Byrd I felt I had a handle on things and it went a little something like this.

Peter Dunne has been in politics, and parliament, for over 30 years. First as a member of the Labour Party (he entered in 1984) and later as an Independent MP and then as part of various assemblages of parties which eventually ended up under the banner of United Future.

And Dunne, like his significant doppelganger Winston Peters, has been in coalition with both Labour and National, supporting both governments and holding ministerial positions in both. Both have developed into one man band operations, despite the veneer of party structure each has assembled around them.

Both men have seen various bills through parliament and both have had their moments of controversy (although Winston could claim a lot more) and both have fallen afoul of the particular government of the day (Peters with both National and Labour and Dunne with National in 2013 over his leaking of documents to journo Andrea Vance).

But NZ First, as a party, appears a lot more coherent, if more sycophantic (I am always impressed when Winston storms or is thrown out of the house and his drones obediently follow) while United Future is a shell party assembled to give the illusion (for those who remember the de-registration saga in 2013) of coherent support outside of Dunne’s immediate staff so he can continue to receive government funding and allow Dunne to remain in parliament.

Where the symbiosis ends is that while Peters has championed the cause of the proverbial, and possibly theoretical, Kiwi, Dunne has not. Peters has retained a constituency outside of any particular electorate despite his win in Northland and his loss of his previous long held seat in Tauranga while Dunne has only ever held one seat (now by the slimmest of margins), Ohariu in Wellington.

From the Numbers side United Future has sunk in public polling from 6% in 2002 to 0.27% in 2014 while Dunnes margin in his home electorate has shrunk to a few percentage points ahead of Labour (36% to 34% in the 2014 election) and with National and the Greens holding healthy shares as well (National at 16% and the Greens at 7%).

NZ First on the other hand stole 54% of the votes in an electorate in had not really polled in before (Northland) and NZ first holds at around 7% to 10% on any given day in the party popularity stakes.

This means that as a political party United Future is a non-existent entity with no mandate of any kind and with a single MP who holds his electorate by the barest of margins due to a fractured makeup (the previously grumbles by Charles Chauvel of Labour in 2011 that Dunne had won the seat due to a deal with National to feed voters to United Future was probably sour grapes on Chauvels part but to me it would be less a case of National doing a deal with Dunne and more National simply encouraging its voters to “vote strategically” by supporting Dunne without any conspiracy needed to keep Dunne in power knowing that they could not win it themselves and to keep Labour out).

And the party website reflects all of this with sparse (if any) policy prescriptions, a list of members which appear to be entirely composed of all the individuals who care about the party (when you read their bios) and tag line “Economically responsible, socially conservative” all of which screams “dead man walking” in our current political climate. Granted it’s not as bad as ACTs website but that is a matter of degree not difference.

And Dunne is a dead man walking, he is a statistical anomaly who exists because he has carefully created a niche in the MMP ecosystem where he can remain and exploit his position in governments which require minor party support to make a majority.

He has played key roles in getting many pieces of legislation through the house and none worse than his deciding vote in making government asset sales a reality (which for me was the turning point where I went from seeing Dunne as a true inhabitant of the middle ground to a servant of the power).

His competence as a minister is commendable but not a saving grace in such a situation. And while I do believe that he is a genuinely principled individual (as his willingness to criticize the government of the day can sometimes show) his position in the system (and the actions he takes) comes at a far greater costs to the country than any service he has given to his electorate or imaginary party supporters.

Where Winston Peters is an out and out political showman demagogue grandstanding on issues to cynically get votes and keep punching his meal ticket Dunne has quietly enabled the slow motion train wreck (although he is not alone in this) that New Zealand politics has become by being one of the “silent majority” that has helped keep the neo-liberal reforms in place and the machine oiled and running.

It’s all there on the United Future Website where it tells the visitor that they are part of a “global movement” under which the flag of neo liberalism is proudly flown and in his own history when his move out of Labour in the 1980s came after Rodger Douglas and the other right wingers had already exited and Dunne was left alone in a party with blood on its hands and trying to rid itself of the remaining guilty candidates (of which Dunne was one).

But let’s compare further with his significant other. Winston’s great(est) moment in the political spot light was the Wine box inquiry which saw him expose the seedy underbelly of New Zealand for all to see through his uncanny ability to grab an issue and extract maximum fury from it while Dunne’s was his refusal to handover all his emails to a government inquiry which saw him vilified for a short while by National (and many in public) and then let back into the beehive clubhouse. Winston remains a potent threat to any government in that he will scramble their entire agenda if it warrants or he does not get what he wants.

Dunne can occasionally express mild upset or disapproval at various tweaks of government policy (as his rather entertaining twitter feed shows) but his protestations usually amount silent farts of apathy and reek of a schizophrenia of morals rather than any real outrage or protest.

And it is there that the difference shows, as a true centrist Peters remains a threat to either side and retains his King maker mystique while Dunne is an accomplice to whatever government will pay his price but without any real threat value. I admit that it’s a small difference but in MMP politics it’s a crucial one; that of unpredictability and exposure vrs predictability and acquiescence.

Some had said that Peter Dunne died in the 90s along with Jim Anderton and the Alliance (yes I know he was an MP till 2011 but he was another example of a MP leeching off his electorate) and was resurrected in 2002 by the “Worm” used to monitor the statements made by MPs during the televised debates (and lets not start on the Worm right now, a more blatant example of election engineering I cannot think of).

If that is the case and Dunne owes his current existence to a cheap TV gimmick then he has done well from this quirk of fate but in the final analysis he, like Peters, Anderton and ACT, is a child of MMP and the system allows for such creatures but unlike Winston, Dunne is on borrowed time as the only thing holding him in place is the fact that any push by Labour to unseat him might drive voters in his electorate in the arms of National as much as themselves. But a desperate Labour might just be tempted to risk it to get one more “easy” seat come a tight 2017 race.

But I leave the final words to my good friend Q who in his measured tones noted that despite all of the vitriol I could muster Peter Dunne may actually be the “most successful politician in NZ politics today” having served both as a MP continuously for over 30 years (Winston has 40 but it has gaps out of office and his limited time helming actual portfolios weakens his legacy) and for long stretches as a minister in many governments which is not a feat that many politicians can boast of.

Of course that was a pure measurement on the scale of politics devoid of morality of anything else (Q is a trained lawyer after all) but grudgingly I would have to agree with him.

*- here 
**-Which is the final point of this recent piece on Dunne.