Trotter on Labour and the Party Vote

July 8th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

If everyone who voted for their Labour candidate in last year’s election had also given Labour their party vote, National would have lost.

No. Labour would have done better, but that does not mean Labour would have won.

The discrepancy between the two vote tallies is startling. Everybody’s heard about Labour’s woeful 2014 party vote. At just 25 per cent, it was Labour’s worst electoral performance since 1922.

Nowhere near as well known, however, is the number of votes cast for Labour Party candidates across the country’s 71 electorates. That number, at 801,287, is 196,752 larger than the 604,535 party votes Labour received.

If every electorate vote for Labour had been matched by a party vote, the percentage figure alongside Labour’s name on election night would not have been a derisory 25, but a much more respectable 34 – almost certainly enough to have changed the government.

Let’s have a look at what the result would have been if based on electorate votes only. National got 46.1%, Labour 34.1%, Greens 7.1%, Conservatives 3.5%, NZ First 3.1%, Maori Party 1.8% Mana 1.6%, ACT 1.2% and United Future 0.6%.

The CR electorate vote was 51.4%. The CL electorate vote was 42.8% and the centre parties had 4.9%.

So if the election has been decided on electorate, not party vote, National would still have won.

Of course it is a silly comparison, because some people make a conscious decision to split their vote. They may never vote for a particular party, but like their local MP.


All Popes are anti-capitalist

June 29th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter is excited that Pope Benedict has attack capitalism:

Pope Francis, like his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, is challenging the powerful to see the world through new eyes. The question, now, is whether the powerful will embrace this radical pope, or destroy him?

The fate of St Francis would have been grim, had the then occupant of the papal throne, Innocent III, not recognised in his charismatic power a force of huge potential benefit to the Catholic Church.

By extending his protection to Francis and his followers, Innocent allowed them to open a new pathway for the faithful. Pope Francis, in his first encyclical, Laudato Si (Praise Be), presents global capitalism with a similar choice. Either, brand this radical pope a heretic and destroy him, or, embrace his radical Christian ecologism as a uniquely effective way of re-presenting capitalism to an increasingly hostile world.

Almost every senior religious figure is anti-capitalism. That is why they are in religion, not business.

While Popes have differed in their views on social issues, on economic issues they have all denounced unfettered capitalism regularly.

Pope John Paul II spoke of capitalism having viruses of consumerism and materalism.

The arch conservative Pope Benedict spoke of the failures of capitalism.

So basically a Pope attacking capitalism is about as news worthy as a public health activist promoting a new tax. Not much.

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Trotter asks if Labour is finished?

June 15th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

IF IT HAD ONLY HAPPENED ONCE, I could have written it off as a simple overstatement. Politics lends itself to exaggeration, and there was a lot of that associated with the Labour Party’s Review of the 2014 General Election. But, what I’m describing wasn’t the usual bluff and bluster of the instant commentariat. What I was hearing was coming from “civilians” – people without a platform – ordinary folks. And, what they’ve been saying to me, over and over again, in the week or so since the Review was leaked to TV3’s Paddy Gower, is the same statement-cum-question:  “I think Labour’s finished as a major party – what do you think?”

Now, this is a not the sort of statement/question that political parties ever want to hear. Because it isn’t just another complaint about this leader, or that policy. No, this is an existential query: and existential queries only get made when the subject has already got at least one foot (and a good portion of leg) in the political grave. …

The difference between National’s response to its electoral nadir and Labour’s reaction to its worst result since 1922, is that the former took its thrashing seriously and Labour isn’t. Long before the Review was complete, Labour insiders were already speculating on whether or not it would be big enough to make a passable door-stop.

This is the key thing. Labour didn’t respond to their then worst ever modern defeat in 2011, and following an even worse defeat in 2014, they again have not looked to make any major changes.

National looked upon its defeat as a catastrophic market failure. National Incorporated’s share price had crashed, the Bank was ready to call in its overdraft, and the receivers were hovering. Time was of the essence. The Board of Directors had to do something.

What did they do? Well, they did what every big business in trouble does. They called in the political equivalent of McKinsey & Co. – consultants in extremis – and ruthlessly refashioned the National Party into a lean, mean electoral machine. National’s review panel didn’t just lop-off the dead wood, they fed it into the wood chipper, mixed it with the blood and bones of several sacred cows, and spread it over their flower beds!

Yep. I recall the special conference to approve the changes. I spoke in favour of them (bar one).

Democracy is one of those things (like fairness) that National tends to honour more in the breach than the execution.

I’m reminded of the quote by General McArthur – I’m here to preserve democracy, not practice it :-)

Perhaps Labour could be saved if, like the ancient Romans, they were willing to install a dictator to “save the Republic” from its enemies (in the case of Labour’s membership that would be themselves!) someone capable of turning the party into a lean, mean electoral machine.

Except, of course, Labour’s never going to do that. Which is why so many people are telling me “Labour’s finished” – and  why, regretfully, I’m agreeing with them.

I think Little, as a former president, could save the party. If he is willing to use his position and prestige to push a significant reform package, then he could get it through. But will he take the risk, or just rely on the hope that the voters won’t want to give National a 4th term?

UPDATE: Rob Hosking has similar thoughts:

Hemmed in by enemies on all sides, the New Zealand Labour Party looks increasingly like the old New Zealand Liberal Party: a movement whose time has passed.

The Liberals had their time in the political sun, but society moved on and the party did not. The different wings of the party hived off into other movements and the party itself was subsumed.

Labour looks headed the same way: its cadre of professional politicians have relied on the political cycle turning their way again but the thing about cycles is they tend to turn and end up in a different place.

That s basically their plan – hope the tide turns.

New Zealand’s political Left is overdue for realignment: that re-alignment has, over the past month, moved much closer. 

Budget 2015, meanwhile, dealt another blow: in its combination of the first real increase in benefit levels since 1972 and greater incentives to get off those benefits, it raised the awkward question of why Labour did not do something similar when in government.

Not for the first or last time, the underlying question many on the Left are asking is: what is Labour for?

Giving more power to unions, so they get more money and members, so they can fund Labour.

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Trotters forgets tax

June 14th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

Well, here’s an idea (hat-tip to Danyl McLauchlan). Why not make it a rule that a Labour MP cannot take home more than the average wage of, roughly, $55,000 per year. The balance of their income, $95,000, would go to the party. This would guarantee Labour an annual income, from its current 32-strong caucus, of at least $3,040,000 per year, or, $9,120,000 over the three year parliamentary term.

That’s not a bad war chest – and just think of the effect on Labour’s voters! Knowing that their MPs are unwilling to take home more than the average income earner. That they’re prepared to give up two-thirds of their salaries to ensure that, come election time, the party of the workers stands a fighting chance against the party of the bosses. That they’re not just in it for the money, and the perks, and the power. What do you think that would do for building trust and identification?

There’s one problem with Chris’ calculations. He’s forgotten tax.

Perhaps Chris silently yearns for a low tax economy, where high earners can donate most of their salary to good causes, rather than pay it to the IRD. But we are not there yet.

The IRD will take $40,420 in tax off each MP compared to $9,520 for someone on $55,000. So that is $30,900 less money per MP to be tithed which is $2,966,400 less money over a three year term.

Maybe that would convince Labour to champion low taxes though – so they can tithe more of their income to Labour!

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Trotter says Labour not connecting

May 31st, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

In order to sell a Labour Party based on Choice, Aspiration, Responsibility and National Pride; a credible, likeable (and because, historically, Labour is coming off such a low base) a frankly inspirational leader is required. Someone with a personality powerful enough to rekindle the love Labour lost in the 1980s and 90s – and only fleetingly recovered in the early noughties. Someone capable of sparking-up the old flame. And, more than this, someone fresh and fascinating enough to attract and hold the attention of Generations X, Y and Z. Someone to warrant a selfie – and a vote.

Does this sound like Andrew Little? Does it sound like anyone in Labour’s post-2014 caucus? If the answer is “No”, then, even with Sir Michael’s sage advice, the party’s in a pretty pickle. It has tried, four times, to pick a winner: twice by the judgement of the Caucus alone; twice according to the judgement of the whole party. Every single one of them failed to fire. And whoever heard of fifth time lucky?

If they want emotional connection, then maybe the answer is Jacinda?

Something has to be done, however, or, like Sir Keith Holyoake, the New Zealand political leader he so closely resembles, the Prime Minister will lead his party to its fourth consecutive election victory.

Little started strongly last year. Almost everyone said this. But his performance so far this year has been a combination of Missing In Action and Misfiring.

“When in doubt”, says Lynton Crosby, “stand for something!” And then, he might have added, convince a majority of voters to stand with you

If Labour can’t find a leader to do that for them, then, for God’s sake, let them hire a campaign manager who can!

Maybe McCarten should become Leader and Little the campaign manager! :-)

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Trotter on Labour’s enrol for the dole

May 15th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

The other explanation for Labour’s curious submission is considerably less lofty.

Despite enormous effort by scores of tireless volunteers, tens of thousands of likely Labour voters failed to enrol in time for last year’s election. Though technically in breach of the Electoral Act, these citizens will probably not be prosecuted. Receiving no disincentive to repeating the offence, there’s every chance their names will not appear on the roll again in 2017.

If, however, tens of thousands of social welfare beneficiaries – people who, most experts agree, are much more inclined to vote for political parties of the Left than the Right – were required (ably assisted by Work and Income staff) to fulfil their legal obligations as electors before receiving their benefits, then the Labour Party would be saved a huge amount of hard political slog.

First make it no benefit if they don’t enrol. Then no benefit if they don’t vote. And finally an increased benefit if they vote Labour!

When viewed from this perspective, Labour’s submission not only appears organisationally self-serving, but it could also be construed as a subtle thrust against the emerging strategic preference (among Andrew Little’s principal advisers) for Labour’s effort to be directed at “soft” National Party voters. Many on the left of the Labour Party are convinced that the tens of thousands of unregistered voters constitute a more wholesome electoral target than some 21st century version of “Rob’s Mob”.

That Labour’s submission ended up attracting so much (presumably unwanted) media attention more than bears out the observation with which this discussion began. That one of the best ways of telling whether or not things are going well for a political party is how invisible its organisational wing is willing to become, and how anonymous its leadership.

The question for the Labour caucus should be why did none of the three Labour caucus reps on the NZ Council vote against the submission or stop it?

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Trotter on metropolitan elites

May 5th, 2015 at 9:14 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

Whether the United Kingdom has a Labour Prime Minister by the end of this week remains to be seen. What cannot be disputed, however, is that among Labour’s traditional working-class constituency, much of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government’s programme remains surprisingly popular.

Four out of five trade union members, for example, told pollsters that they thought the £26,000 (NZ$52,300) cap on benefits was a good idea. Indeed, Matt Ridley, Member of the House of Lords and author of the bestselling book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, reports that “Tory candidates out canvassing tell me they are finding that welfare reform, while horrifying the metropolitan elite, is most popular in the meanest streets — where people are well aware of neighbours who play the system”.

This is the same in NZ. The 2011 NZ Electoral Study found (on a weighted average basis) support for the following:

  • Unemployed should work for benefits 80%
  • Benefits make people lazy and dependent 63%
  • Most unemployed could find a job if they want 60%
  • Most on dole are fiddling 59%
  • Trade unions are too powerful 52%

And take work for the dole. Among those who voted Labour in 2011, 76% support work for the dole, and only 14% are against it. For Green voters it is 73% in favour and 16% against.

49% of Labour voters agreed most unemployed could find a job if they want, with 42% disagreeing.

47% of Labour voters agreed benefits make people lazy and dependent with 39% disagreeing. With Greens 46% agreeing and 38% disagreeing.

The problem for NZ Labour is the disconnect between the MPs and activists, and their voters, and potential voters.

What horrifies “metropolitan elites” has, however, come to dominate the policies of both the British and New Zealand Labour Parties. Highly educated and socially liberal, the party activists of both countries would rather see their parties split in two than endorse the “reactionary” views of their working-class supporters.

Long may it continue. Labour for the last two elections has campaigned on paying the in work tax credit to families not in work. And they wonder why they don’t get 30%!

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Gower and Trotter on Little’s victory

November 21st, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Patrick Gower writes:

It is the great union robbery – the unions have stolen Labour’s leadership.

The unions have installed their man Andrew Little as Labour’s boss through a backdoor takeover, in what you’d call a perverse outcome. …

You see, only Labour’s six affiliated unions have control over the 20 percent vote for the leadership – Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing (EPMU), Dairy Workers, Meat Workers and Related Trades, Rail and Maritime Transport, Maritime, and Service and Food Workers (SFW).

So it is not actually “the unions” which stole Labour’s leader – it is actually just six private sector unions.

Just six unions out of the 144 in New Zealand is hardly representative.

And the EPMU which Little was of course the boss of, has the most votes for the Labour leadership.

It gets even worse. Only the SFW give their members a vote; the other five let delegates decide for its members.

The union vote is not one person, one vote. It is not democracy – it is a union muscle job.

A few score union delegates got to decide the leadership.

And there’s an example of a Labour leader installed by the unions – his name is Ed Miliband.

Just like Little, Miliband didn’t win the British Labour party membership, and he didn’t win the MPs, but he did win the union vote. And right now, Miliband has terrible poll ratings.

The truth is this: Little won the Labour leadership thanks to a handful of his union mates. That doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t do a good job.

Little could not win the New Plymouth electorate. Little could not win the Labour Party membership. Little could not win the Labour MPs.

All Little could win was his union mates.

Chris Trotter also writes:

If Grant Robertson’s young followers genuinely want to roll back the influence of neoliberalism, both within the Labour Party, and in New Zealand generally, then radically democratising the affiliated unions’ processes of representation would be one of the best ways to do it. 

if the union vote had been open to every union member, rather than just the bosses, it is highly unlikely Little would have won.

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Labour’s woes increasing

September 23rd, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Rotorua Daily Post reveals that the former Chair of the Rotorua Labour Party voted National!:

A former Rotorua Labour Party spokesman says he has become disillusioned with the party and spent Saturday night celebrating with Rotorua MP Todd McClay.

Rotorua Weekender columnist and local businessman Fraser Newman said he had given up his Labour Party membership, saying the party had lost its way.

Mr Newman said he also voted for Mr McClay on Saturday saying he was an effective local MP who worked hard and had delivered for the city.

“It’s time for Labour to think about its future.

“Does it want to be a small left wing minority party or a centre-left party that appeals to middle New Zealand?”

Again this is from someone who was an electorate chair for them not very long ago.

And you know Labour has troubles when even Steve Maharey says the party has become too left wing!!

Labour moved left to secure what it assumed was its base and never moved back. Over six years it failed to effectively oppose the Government and propose a coherent policy platform that won the support of 40 per cent of voters. It persisted in arguing New Zealand was on the wrong track (which it may well be) when most voters thought the opposite.

In addition, it confused voters by vacillating between behaving like a major party and then like just the largest of a left grouping. When it began arguing that it really was a major party it was too late.

Maharey makes the point:

It should start by understanding that in New Zealand politics the foundation for victory is in the centre. A party seeking to form a stable, strong government has to have a message that appeals to around 40 per cent of these voters.

The Labour leadership contest forced the candidates to try and compete with each other to come up with the most left wing policies they could, to appeal to the base. Their strategy was to be hard left to energise the base and the million non voters. It totally failed as a strategy. They claim they were also trying to target centrist voters – but you know what – you can’t really do both – as the voters are not stupid.

Chris Trotter gets into the metaphors:

Overall, the image presented to the electorate was one of John Key as the embattled matador. Alone in the arena, he faced charge after charge from a seemingly never-ending succession of bulls. But with every twirl of his cape and flash of his sword, the pile of dispatched cattle-beasts grew higher.

The crowd cheered. The roses rained down. “Bravo!” shouted 48 per cent of New Zealand. “Three more years!”

As the dust of combat settles, the identity of the matador’s defeated attackers is revealed. Among them is the political corpse of the redoubtable Hone Harawira, his thick hide pierced by multiple lances. And, sprawled alongside this mighty bull of the North, his blundering sponsor, the massive German beast called Kim Dotcom.

Some distance apart lies the slim political carcass of the brave little steer known as Colin Craig – his wide-eyes still staring imploringly up at the crowd. (Missing from the pile are the bodies of those bulls whose horns actually drew the matador’s blood: Nicky Hager, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden.)

But in all that vast arena, the most pitiful sight is that of the old bull called Labour.

Its ancient hide is pierced and bleeding; around its mouth a bloody froth. The matador’s sword has penetrated the unfortunate animal’s lungs and heart, but the poor creature still stands there, defiant. Panting noisily, quivering legs about to fold beneath its battered body, Labour seems unaware that its wounds are fatal. That it is dying on its feet.

And Stacey Kirk blogs on today:

So that press conference was a train wreck. Cunliffe says he takes “full responsibility” for Labour’s loss, but they may be hollow words to the caucus as he refuses to take the blame.

He won’t be apologising to his caucus, and he’ll be asking them to trigger a new leadership primary under their constitution.

He’ll effectively do that by asking them to pass a vote of no-confidence in him, (which many would probably gladly do) but then have every chance of regaining the leadership with the backing of the unions and wider party.

That would hardly bring stability to Labour.

And no less than five minutes after Cunliffe spoke of his “disappointment” in Labour MPs speaking to media on their strife, were two MPs speaking to the media – David Shearer and Phil Goff. (I’ve got videos clips of boths of those – I’ll post shortly)

The party is in disarray.

Time to order up a three month supply of popcorn!

UPDATE: John Armstrong reflects:

An extraordinary morning in the Labour Party’s wing of Parliament Buildings. There were only two words to describe things – absolute mayhem.

And that was even before Labour MPs had even begun their crucial post-election caucus meeting, at which there was expected to be some very blunt language during a preliminary post-mortem on last Saturday s crushing defeat.

David Cunliffe is fighting tooth and nail to hang on as leader. His chances of doing so would seem to deteriorate further with every wrong tactic and mistaken ploy he uses to shore up his crumbling position.

Time is Cunliffe’s enemy. He needs an early party-wide vote to refresh his mandate as party leader before the true awfulness of Labour’s thrashing really sinks in and his support among the mass membership and trade unions affiliated to the party which backed him in last September’s leadership ballot rapidly erodes.

Other senior figures like former leader David Shearer are arguing vociferously that the leadership question be left in abeyance until a proper and fundamental review of the party’s failings and the reasons for its dreadful showing in last week’s general election are thoroughly examined. The results of such a review are unlikely to reflect well on Cunliffe.

Cunliffe wants caucus to roll him now, so he can have a quick members ballot. But the craft ABCs won’t play along, and they have three months before they have to have a vote.

UPDATE2: The Labour caucus meeting has now been going for seven hours. Generally they last two hours. It must be brutal in there.

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Trotter on Labour’s electorate MPs

July 28th, 2014 at 8:32 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

Well, I say “Labour” but, really, the hoarding facing us was all about Phil Goff. It was his ugly mug and buck-toothed smile that confronted the viewer, and his name in bold sans-serif that somebody had helpfully placed a big tick underneath. Oh sure, right down the very bottom you could, if you squinted hard enough, make out the Labour Party’s slogan “Vote Positive”, and yes, there was even an exhortation to “Party Vote Labour”. But, seriously, nobody driving by is going to have time to register anything other than the local MP, Phil Goff, is soliciting their vote.

I’m told this is happening all over the country. That the hoardings erected by Labour electorate MPs are, overwhelmingly, self-promoting. Not the party (unless you have very good eyesight). And certainly not the Leader. (God forbid!) In spite of delivering the worst result in 90 years, the so-called “election strategy” of 2008, promote the candidate – not the party, is being idiotically repeated – by the same idiots!

Chris means 2011.

The fundamental message of the MMP system: Only the Party Vote matters! is, once again, being studiously ignored by MPs whose only concern is to retain their seniority in Labour’s faction-ridden caucus.

What this will produce, just as it did in 2008, is the absurdity of Labour plummeting to 27 percent in the Party Vote, but capturing 32 percent of the Electorate Vote. Had those figures been reversed on Election Night three years ago, Phil Goff would now be Prime Minister.

Well depends where they pick the party votes up from.

That Phil Goff is promoting himself alone, that his leader’s image is being relegated (as his own was in 2008) to the back streets, adds up, in my opinion, to just one bleak message.

Labour is heading for the worst defeat in its 98-year history.

We can only hope.

Danyl McL has also noted that very small Labour logos on the billboards.

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Trotter calls for Labour to expel some of its MPs

June 11th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

Like the Castle Street Branch of the 1980s, the Labour Party of 2014 boasts a narrow left-wing majority. That majority, after changing the party rules, elected David Cunliffe as its leader and is in the process of constructing a binding policy platform for the next Labour Government. At first glance, then, the lessons of the 1980s appear to have been learned.

All but one – and that the most important of them all. Majorities mean nothing outside the only Labour Party institution that truly matters: the parliamentary caucus. If you cannot control the caucus, then you simply cannot reassure the party that its best efforts will not be rendered worthless through the calculated insubordination of a clique of rebellious caucus members.

This is especially problematic when these insubordinate rebels (most of whom are securely ensconced in safe Labour seats) believe it will be easier for like-minded politicians to protect “the policies this country needs” if David Cunliffe and all that he represents loses the forthcoming general election.

Butcher’s gambit is as powerful today as it was 25 years ago.

What are Cunliffe’s options? Obviously the option of splitting the Labour Party and forming “NewLabour” – the Labour Left’s choice in 1989 – is not available to the party leader. Which leaves the other option put forward by Matt McCarten back in 1988.

“It seems obvious to me now that the right-wing MPs have put their hands up and threatened the party”, Matt told Labour’s president, Rex Jones. “So we should call a special conference of the party and expel them … The Labour Party made a mistake selecting these people so sack them. Throw them out and let them stand against us. They’ll lose and the Labour Party can rebuild itself.”

Chris should name the MPs that he thinks should be explled!

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Trotter calls it early

March 13th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

UNLESS SOMETHING HUGELY DRAMATIC HAPPENS between now and polling day, 20 September, the General Election of 2014 is all but over. The National-led government of Prime Minister, John Key, looks set to be returned for a third term by a margin that may surprise many of those currently insisting that the result will be very close. What may also surprise is the sheer scale and comprehensiveness of the Left’s (especially Labour’s) electoral humiliation.

That’s a bold prediction. I don’t believe in calling a result until around 10 pm on election night :-)

With most opinion pollsters recording three-fifths to two-thirds of voters saying the country is “heading in the right direction” it is clear that the run of generally positive news stories about the New Zealand economy are rebounding to National’s advantage. To those with secure paid employment and/or comfortable incomes, these reports offer no compelling reason for a change of government.

That is a strong factor. And worth comparing to other countries. In NZ 63% say the country is heading in the right direction, followed by 38% only in Australia, 35% in Canada, 33% in the UK and just 31% in the US.

In terms of political leadership, National is especially blessed. Most New Zealanders like John Key. In spite of his enormous wealth, he strikes a staggeringly large number of voters as an “ordinary bloke” who shares their values and understands their aspirations. His stand-up comedian’s ability to use humour as both sword and shield generally frees him from the onerous duties of detailed explanation and justification.

I’m not sure it frees him from that, but I agree most people like him, and it is amusing to come across people who not only dislike him themselves (which of course si expected) but they can’t work out how anyone anywhere can like him.

Labour’s leadership problems are the mirror-image of National’s. David Cunliffe is not yet understood or, sadly, much liked by the electorate. He simply doesn’t come across as an ordinary bloke – quite the reverse in fact – and the pollsters have yet to detect the sort of wholesale buy-in to the Opposition leader’s values and aspirations that presages a decisive shift in ideological allegiances. Neither is Cunliffe helped by his bizarre propensity to withhold politically relevant information from the public. Nothing arouses a journalist’s fury faster than a politician’s failure to supply the whole story.

Indeed, as others have also found.

Mr Key’s strategy of making haste slowly on these little things while seeking an electoral mandate for the big things (like partial privatisation) goes a long way to explaining his government’s enduring lead in the opinion polls.

It’s called taking the public with you, so change can be enduring.

All of which brings us down to the day itself.

 Month after month of favourable polls; a leader careful to build his footpaths where people walk; policies which voters either hardly notice or readily endorse; and a war-chest more than equal to the challenge of exploiting all these substantial advantages will not only have National’s supporters in a triumphant temper, but they will also have induced a profound demoralisation among their opponents.
Election Day 2014 – barring that big surprise – will, therefore, likely see National’s supporters marching proudly, as to a political coronation, while Labour and Green supporters, convinced they’ve already lost, deliver John Key an unparalleled National victory and the psephologists a record low turnout.
Again, I think this is premature but we’ll get some idea if Chris is right i the next few months.
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Views on McCarten

February 28th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

The New Zealand Left suddenly finds itself in the position of the dog who caught the car. For years, slagging off the Labour Party as a bunch of neoliberal sell-outs has been one of the Left’s favourite pub and parlour games. But now, with one of this country’s most effective left-wing campaigners just one door down from the Leader of the Labour Opposition, the Left, like the bewildered pooch for whom the fun was always in the chase, has finally got what it wanted and must decide what to do with it.

Yes, it is a huge victory for the far left.

If Cunliffe and McCarten are allowed to fail, the Right of the Labour Party and their fellow travellers in the broader labour movement (all the people who worked so hard to prevent Cunliffe rising to the leadership) will say:

 “Well, you got your wish. You elected a leader pledged to take Labour to the Left. And just look what happened. Middle New Zealand ran screaming into the arms of John Key and Labour ended up with a Party Vote even more pitiful than National’s in 2002! So don’t you dare try peddling that ‘If we build a left-wing Labour Party they will come’ line ever again! You did – and they didn’t.”
Be in no doubt that this will happen – just as it did in the years after the British Labour Party’s crushing defeat in the general election of 1983. The Labour Right called Labour’s socialist manifesto “the longest suicide note in history” and the long-march towards Blairism and the re-writing of Clause Four began.
Not sure comparison to Michael Foot are helpful to Labour.
The Dom Post:

So the dinosaurs are back. Richard Prebble returns to run ACT’s election campaign. Matt McCarten returns to become Labour leader David Cunliffe’s chief of staff. The ironies are multiple. These two were the chief brawlers in the brutal and byzantine ruckus within Labour over Auckland Central in the 1980s.

A generation later the two will once again be on opposite sides of the political war. 

Not opposite sides. Prebble is campaign manager for ACT, not National. McCarten is chief of staff for Labour.

Mr McCarten is a similarly divisive figure, and already his old comrade Mr Anderton has said he won’t work for Labour this year, apparently because of Mr McCarten. Labour is billing Mr McCarten’s return as a symbolic healing of the rifts in the Left-wing family, but clearly the rifts do not heal easily.

What was interesting is that Cunliffe said he was sure Jim would still be supporting Labour, and then Jim said he won’t be while McCarten is there. What is surprising isn’t Anderton’s views, but that no one spoke to him in advance and hence Cunliffe said something that was contradicted an hour later.

The Herald:

But that presumes Labour’s existing voter base also favours a move to policies aimed at attracting the lost tribes of the left. There is a risk surely that some working, non-unionised, moderate social democrats will see a Labour Party raising taxes, advancing union interests, expanding the state and redirecting wealth to support beneficiaries and the poor as altogether less appealing.

Most non voters are proportionally under 30. I’m not sure a return to 1970s policies will be appealing to them.

Labour’s result in 2011 was its worst for generations. Its poll rating now, under Mr Cunliffe, has not increased much at all from its early-30s standings under David Shearer, despite promising expanded paid parental leave and a baby bonus for all those earning up to $150,000 a year. 

In August 2013 when Shearer was Leader, Labour’s average poll rating was 32.4%. In February 2014 their average poll rating is 32.2%.

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Trotter on Key

August 16th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

UNDERESTIMATING JOHN KEY is a serious mistake. Helen Clark did it in 2008, and Key knocked her out of the ring. He did the same to John Campbell last night.

When is the Left going to come to terms with the fact that John Key is National’s toughest, smartest and most dangerous leader – ever? Defeating “The Candidate from Central Casting” was never going to be easy, but our consistent failure to grasp the brute reality of Key’s clear superiority – when compared to just about every politician the Opposition can throw at him – is turning his defeat into a near impossibility.

Defeat is far from impossible. In theory a Labour/Greens/NZ First/Maori/Mana combination is within striking distance of governing.

However I do agree that many on the left under-estimate Key constantly. They forget his performance vs Cullen in 2005, Clark in 2008 and Goff in 2011 – each a 30 year veteran of Parliament.

We are, after all, talking about a politician whose popularity seldom dips below 40 percent in the Preferred Prime Minister ratings. We are looking at a National Government which, in 2011 increased its share of the Party Vote to an unprecedented 47.3 percent. And that was three years after it had been elected with an MMP record-breaking 44.9 percent. Why don’t we “get” how extraordinary this guy is? Since when does a prime minister’s (let alone a government’s) honeymoon last five years?! 

Simply because it is not a honeymoon. The actual honeymoon lasted around nine months.

Think about the televised encounter between John Key and John Campbell on last night’s Campbell Live (Wednesday, 14 August 2013) and then consider the Prime Minister’s tactics in the light of the following observations about political debate:

“This is the very first condition which has to be fulfilled in every kind of propaganda: a systematically one-sided attitude towards every problem that has to be dealt with … When they see an uncompromising onslaught against an adversary, the people have at all times taken this as proof that right is on the side of the aggressor; but if the aggressor should go only halfway and fail to push home his success … the people will look upon this as a sign that he is uncertain of the justice of his own cause.”

The source of these observations? Mein Kampf – by Adolf Hitler.

Another politician who was seriously underestimated by his enemies.

Chris often takes the hyperbole a step too far. In this case, it is several steps too far.

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Trotter on the Garner source

July 17th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Chris trotter writes at Stuff:

Labour MPs have accused Garner of “making up” his story about a coup being under way against Shearer. But only a moment’s thought is required to expose this accusation for the nonsense it is.

Garner has confirmed that his informant was a member of the Labour Party caucus. Presumably, he or she was someone who had vouchsafed information to Garner in the past – information which had proved to be reliable.

The maelstrom of criticism into which Garner has been unceremoniously pitched, since his predictions of last Thursday night were proved wrong, provides the strongest argument as to why he would not have tweeted without feeling extremely confident about the rumour’s veracity.

(Just to make sure, however, he sought and received confirmation from a second Labour Party source.)

That Garner was given what the Americans would call “a bum steer” should tell him (and us) that the atmosphere in Labour’s caucus is becoming increasingly toxic.

Is the source the same one who told One News and Three News staff Shearer had two months to improve?

So, why did Garner’s coup rumour fail to stack up? Let’s go through the explanatory options.

1) Some sort of leadership coup was on, but Garner’s tweet alerted Shearer’s supporters and the organisers were forced to abort. (Despairing Labour MPs may simply have been gathering sufficient signatures to persuade their leader to go gracefully and preserve the party from a debilitating civil war.)

2) No coup was imminent, but Garner’s source considered it vital that Shearer be forced to endure yet another destabilising round of media speculation concerning the viability of his leadership. (So vital that they were willing to abuse and lose Garner’s trust.)

3) For reasons of their own, Shearer’s backers decided to undermine Garner’s journalistic credibility by deliberately misinforming him that a coup was under way.

My pick is No 2.

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Trotter on left vs right

July 15th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter comments on Stephen Franks’ blog:

I once concluded an editorial in the NZ Political Review with the following observation:

“There is a paradox here. Conservative political culture, whose raison d’etre is the preservation of social inequality and economic exploitation (not to mention the institutional violence these things create and upon which ruling class power rests) tends to produce individuals of considerable personal charm and genuine liberality. While radical culture, which sets its face against the violence and injustice of entrenched privilege, all too often produces individuals who are aggressive, intolerant and utterly indifferent to the suffering which their relentless quest for justice causes.

“In short, the Right treats humanity like cattle and individual human-beings like princes, while the Left loves humanity with a passion but treats individuals like shit.”

Somewhere there must be an algorithm that delivers the best of both worlds.

I’m still looking.

I think there is more than an element of truth to this. It should go without saying that the above is a generalisation and of course not true for many many people. But I have observed that while the left does have much greater passion for humanity and the like, on an individual level the same passion and concern does not always come through.


All about the man ban

July 6th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Lots of commentary on Labour’s proposed man ban.

Colin Epsiner writes at Stuff:

Oh dear. I really didn’t think it was possible for Labour to top its own goal over the Sky City corporate box debacle. But it has. 

After a week where the Government ought to be on the back foot over the GCSB saga, Auckland’s nutty property market, and the death throes of one of its coalition partners, Labour has come out with a policy so politically barmy it makes you wonder whether it really has any interest in winning the next election. …

David Shearer has – after initially stating the policy had “some merit” – realised he’s dealing with a political bomb and come out against the policy, saying he favours targets rather than quotas. Senior Labour MPs Phil Goff, Shane Jones, and Andrew Little immediately recognised the damage the proposal would do and have denounced it too. 

But it may be too late. This idea needed to be taken out and quietly shot before it ever saw the light of day. From now until it’s debated at Labour’s annual conference in November, Labour’s opponents will have a field day. 

The Opposition needs to be talking to the electorate about jobs, housing, incomes, and hip-pocket issues. Not navel-gazing about its gender balance. The public, to be frank, doesn’t give a toss whether Labour has 41 per cent women MPs or 50 per cent. They just want good candidates and good policies. 

Adam Bennett at NZ Herald reports:

No Labour MPs other than Manurewa’s Louisa Wall will publicly back a proposal to have women-only selection short lists for some electorates to boost female MP numbers.

After his initial reluctance to comment earlier this week, party leader David Shearer has now come out against the proposal.

Outspoken male MPs Shane Jones and Damien O’Connor panned the idea in no uncertain terms, warning it risked driving away socially conservative blue-collar voters.

Of Labour’s 34 MPs, only Ms Wall has been prepared to publicly support it since it was revealed on Thursday.

Eleven, including Mr Shearer, have said they don’t support it or are yet to be convinced.

But is David Shearer not a member of the NZ Council that has proposed this?

So either he got rolled at the NZ Council meeting, or he has flip-flopped and was for it before he rages against it.

Fran O’Sullivan supports it though:

Congratulations to Party Central for putting gender equality ahead of diversity when it comes to the ranking criteria for selecting the next crop of Labour MPs.

Quaintly, the notion that a 21st century political party might opt to use its selection process to try to make sure that as many women as men represent us in Parliament has been met with howls of derision and barely disguised outrage.

That’s just on the Labour side of politics. Let’s point out here that the most vocal MP opponents (Yes, I am talking aboutyou, Shane Jones and you, Clayton Cosgrove) are only there themselves by virtue of their list rankings.

John Armstrong writes:

When you are in a hole, you can rely on Labour to dig itself into an even deeper one beside you – as it did this week with its shoot-yourself-in-both-feet potential change to party rules to allow women-only candidate selections.

This was not solely political correctness gone stark-raving bonkers. Apart from alienating one group of voters who have drifted away from Labour in recent years – men – such a rule change would be just as insulting to women in insinuating they could not win selection on their own merits.

The proposal should have been kiboshed by the leader the moment he saw it. That he didn’t – or felt he couldn’t – points to deep schisms in the party.

The message voters will take from Labour’s warped priorities is that of a party which cannot get its act together in the snoozy backwaters of Opposition, let alone in the blazing sun of Government.

There is a reasons this never emerged under Helen Clark. She would have strangled this before it was born, even if she privately backed it.

Bryce Edwards has collected some of the best tweets on this issue. Here’s a few:

Bernard Orsman ‏@BernardOrsman

The ‘man ban’. Can things get any worse for Labour. PC madness. @nzlabour

James Macbeth Dann ‏@edmuzik

David Shearer is against the quotas. That should guarantee they get passed

Perfect Mike Hosking ‏@MikePerfectHosk

The Labour Party manban makes no sense at all. It’s like saying “drinkable organic wine.”

Patrick Gower ‏@patrickgowernz

Labour Party wants a quota system for MPs based on gender etc – not merit. Apparently this isn’t a joke.

Michael Laws ‏@LawsMichael

Labour’s next caucus rule – seats reserved for the disabled, the mentally ill, overstayers, gays, vegetarians, the over 70s, the under 20s.

Philip Matthews ‏@secondzeit

@harvestbird Over a couple of beers with my mates building a deck, we decided that the manplan has set progressive politics back decades.

Julian Light ‏@julianlight

Went for a coffee this morn but was refused service. Not enough women had bought a coffee. Seemed about as fair as Labour’s policy #manban

Aunty Haurangi ‏@_surlymermaid

Upside to the #manban : Less likely John Tamihere will get an electorate seat.

Keeping Stock ‏@Inventory2

Sean Plunket describes the #ManBan as “a completely co-ordinated attack by the Labour Party on itself”; and he’s spot on.

Ben Uffindell ‏@BenUffindell

@LewStoddart More women MPs just for the sake of more women MPs is not a noble goal. Sexism lies in the population at large.

Cactus Kate ‏@CactusKate2

50% of houses should b owned solely by women n we should hv zero interest loans 2 fund this #manban

Finally we have Chris Trotter:

AMIDST ALL THE CLAMOUR of its detractors, the true significance of Labour’s “Man Ban” has eluded most commentators.

Yes, the proposed rule change has undoubtedly damaged Labour’s election prospects.

Yes, there are many more important issues the party would have preferred the news media to focus upon.

Yes, it is further evidence of a party with no reliable political grown-ups in charge.

Yes, Labour’s opponents will dine out on it for months.

And, yes, it’s the only thing the 2013 Annual Conference will be remembered for.

But, the “Man Ban” is also proof of something else: that the distance separating Labour’s rank-and-file from Labour’s Caucus has grown as wide as the gulf that once separated the “old” Labour Party from the “new”.

The conference in November should be spectacular!


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Trotter on Greens

June 22nd, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

“Why has Russel Norman abandoned the Greens attempt to legitimate QE as a sensible means of stimulating the New Zealand economy?”  

With this thoroughly retrograde decision, Russel has brought to a needless and sudden halt his near faultless eighteen month performance as the Opposition’s most astute economic critic of the National Government.  

By abandoning QE, Russel has also deprived himself, the Greens, and any sort of useful ‘Centre-Left’ coalition government, of one of the very few means of mobilising the indigenous capital resources necessary to fund the job-rich, socially-just and “green” economic development New Zealand needs.  

Both the Greens’ and Labour’s promises: to put New Zealanders back to work; on a living wage; in clean, green and innovative export industries; while guaranteeing them and their families an affordable home; effective health services; and a progressive, child-centred education system; can only be achieved at the cost of billions of NZ dollars-worth of new state spending.  

What Chris Trotter is saying is that the policies of Labour and Greens are unaffordable, unless you printed more money to pay for them.

Russel’s QE proposal: Requiring the Reserve Bank to purchase government issued Earthquake Recovery Bonds to a sum equivalent to 1 percent of GDP (approximately $NZ2 billion) to both assist the Canterbury rebuild and bring down the value of the punishingly over-valued NZ Dollar; was one of the very few practical and non-inflationary funding options available to an incoming progressive government. By taking it off the table, what Russel is really telling us is that the Greens’ and Labour’s promises can no longer be paid for.   –

Trotter is right that their promises can no longer be paid for. What he is absolutely wrong on is saying QE is non-inflationary.

The Greens have always made it a point of political honour to be absolutely straight with the New Zealand electorate. If they intend to keep faith with that tradition, then their co-leader and chief economic policy spokesperson needs to step forward now and admit that, with QE off the agenda, the Greens’ promise to give New Zealand a clean, green and innovative economy can no longer by paid for and, therefore, will no longer be included in the Greens’ 2014 Manifesto. And, while he’s at it, Russel should also foreswear any ambition to be Minister of Finance in a Labour-Green government.  

I doubt they will do either. They’ll just hope the public don’t care of promises are affordable or not.


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Trotter on SNAFU

June 13th, 2013 at 1:30 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

Labour’s performance was equally demoralising. Listening to David Shearer’s opening speech, it soon became clear that he had requested the snap debate not for the purposes of elucidation, but solely for the purposes of persecution. Peter Dunne’s career is in tatters and his reputation is shot, but that is not enough for the Labour Party. Apparently, the party of the workers will not be content until Mr Dunne, like the traitors of old, is subjected to a prolonged, painful and very public execution. …

This cannot be achieved without revealing to the world the full contents of the e-mails exchanged between Mr Dunne and Ms Vance. 

Trotter notes:

The National Party’s Deputy-Leader, Bill English, could hardly conceal his delight at the prospect of Labour getting involved in such a fight. Responding to Shearer’s speech, the Finance Minister declared:

“Peter Dunne is a member of Parliament. OK. So this is the proposition of the Labour Party to the media now: any journalist who corresponds with any Minister in any Labour Government needs to know that their emails and voice messages will be open to scrutiny by the Prime Minister whenever they feel like it. That is the Labour Party proposition to the media. Well, let us just watch over the next couple of weeks. Those members might shout it in here, but out there they are going to be working very hard to get off that hook, because their relationship with the media is now at stake, and when you are in Opposition you need to be able to communicate with the media. You need to have free flow of information. You do in Government too, actually.”

Mr English’s boss put it more succinctly. Addressing the Press Gallery, The Prime Minister asked: “Do you guys seriously want me going out there foraging through your correspondence with my MPs and my ministers and other ministers and support parties? … I think that’s a step you would ferociously repel and be extremely vocal in your opposition to.”

Mr Key’s grammar is as tortured as ever, but it’s hard to disagree with what he is saying. Which really leads me to wonder what the hell is going on with Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. If Labour and the Greens can’t make a better fist of defending press freedom and the citizens’ right to privacy than the National Party, then some very serious questions need to be asked about their competency.

During World War II soldiers became so used to the Army getting things wrong that they coined the acronym “SNAFU” to describe its routine incompetence. I would hate to think that things were now so bad – particularly in Labour – that the party’s strategy for dealing with Mr Dunne could simply be written off as SNAFU:

Situation Normal – All Fucked Up.

They do seem to have managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This should have been an easy win for them, but instead they over-reached, and looked ridiculous.
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The Labour “pack”

March 1st, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes in the Taranaki Daily News:

 I’m told there were six of them, and that they hunted as a pack. Their prey?

Delegates who had voted the wrong way.

Moving through the excited crowds at the Ellerslie Conference Centre last November, an angry group of Labour MPs was seen taking dissidents aside and telling them, in no uncertain terms, which way was up.

Leading the pack was Labour’s employment relations spokeswoman, Darien Fenton, and her grim lieutenant, Dunedin South MP Clare Curran.

No surprises there. Ms Fenton and Ms Curran were among the caucus members most alarmed by the Labour Party rank-and-files’ sudden outbreak of democratic distemper. The other members of the pack, however, came as a surprise.

I had never thought of Jacinda Ardern, Megan Woods, Kris Faafoi or Phil Twyford as attack dogs, but my sources assure me that they were there – chewing people out. So what?

The fact that Chris has enough information to name the six “pack” members shows how many people in Labour must be spilling details of their internal conflicts.

It was Chris Hipkins who drew me aside long before the dramatic conference floor fight to murmur conspiratorially: “Our problems aren’t external – they’re internal.”

The “enemy within” that Chauvel referred to.

Even from the media table, the animosity directed towards caucus members who spoke in favour of the rank- and-file’s resolutions (the most effective of whom, by far, was Leanne Dalziel) was unmistakable.

Dalziel has now been dumped from the shadow Cabinet.

The first thing all politicians learn how to do is count and the people backing Mr Shearer were fearful that a democratised party (with sufficient support in caucus) might decide to wrest the power of choosing the party leader from their hands.

They were terrified that they would then be saddled with the rank-and-file’s choice of December 2011: David Cunliffe. And it wasn’t Mr Shearer’s faction alone, who were counting heads.

Labour’s deputy leader, Grant Robertson, had as much to fear from the leadership question being decided early, by the party, as his boss.


On November 20, Mr Cunliffe is demoted and his faction isolated. On February 4, Mr Shearer manages – just – to secure the backing of 60 per cent-plus-one of his caucus colleagues. On February 19, six days before the long- awaited shadow cabinet reshuffle, Charles Chauvel, a supporter of Mr Cunliffe, quits Parliament.

On February 25, Mr Shearer’s new lineup is announced. The Pack are well rewarded. Ms Fenton and Ms Curran both rise two places in the pecking order, while Mr Twyford goes up three to take a seat on the front bench.

Megan Woods enters the top 20 – a backbencher no longer.

Mr Little rises with her.

Mr Shearer’s chief swordsman, Mr Hipkins, climbs five places to claim the shadow portfolio of education from Mr Cunliffe’s running- mate, Nanaia Mahuta.

Ms Dalziel’s eloquence on behalf of rank-and-file democracy is rewarded with demotion to the back benches.

Mr Cunliffe remains outside the magic circle. In Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express all the suspects wielded the fatal knife.

Labour’s MPs seem equally impressed by the advantages of collectivised bloodletting.

Long may it continue.

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Trotter on the Shearer backstory

December 28th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter looks as the David Shearer backstory, and while it is one I approve of heartily, he seems less enamoured:

Some political observers have drawn comparisons between Mr Shearer and his chief antagonist, Prime Minister John Key. The young Labour activist, Connor Roberts, summed up the pair’s similarities and differences with his now famous quip: “John Key went overseas and made fifty million dollars; David Shearer went overseas and saved fifty million lives.”

This focus on Mr Shearer’s and Mr Key’s “overseas” experiences has led many to assume that both men were out of the country during the pivotal years 1984-1993. In Mr Shearer’s case, however, this is untrue. For nearly the whole period of the Fourth Labour Government (1984-1990) he was here, in New Zealand, studying, teaching and consulting. If he was a Labour Party member at any time during those tumultuous years, then he was a very quiet one. He certainly wasn’t among the ranks of those who fought against Rogernomics. He has, however, often spoken to journalists about his admiration for David Lange’s speeches.
This inability to get worked up about the core elements of neoliberal “reform”: labour market flexibility; privatisation; deregulation; monetary and fiscal discipline; explains his rather odd belief (for a Labour leader) that the contest between Left and Right is “a phony debate”. Such ideological agnosticism – explained away as good old Kiwi pragmatism – does, however, offer us a way into the most unusual and contradictory aspect of Mr Shearer’s entire career: his support for mercenary armies, or, as they prefer to be known these days: private military and security companies (PMSCs).
That reference I covered in Kiwiblgo in 2009 here and here.
That impression was intensified by Mr Shearer’s experiences three years later as the UN’s Senior Humanitarian Advisor in the West African nation of Liberia. Just across Liberia’s northern border, in the ravaged state of Sierra Leone, the PMSC known as Executive Outcomes had been employed under contract to the Sierra Leone Government. Shearer was deeply impressed by this mercenary army’s lightning-fast defeat of the Liberian-backed forces assailing the ruling regime.
A year later, in 1996, Mr Shearer was advising the UN in Rwanda. It was here, just two years earlier, that a brutal genocide had taken place while the United Nations watched – and did nothing. Trying to stitch the rudiments of civil society back together after a disaster on that scale cannot have been easy.
I think it is a good thing that Shearer used his experiences to learn that the private sector can have a key role in activities normally reserved for states.
This was followed by what might be called the John Le Carré phase of Mr Shearer’s career; his two-year stint (1996-1998) as a research associate at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. Like its sister institute – The Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as Chatham House – the IISS has always laboured under strong suspicions of being a sort of “front organisation” for Britain’s foreign affairs, defence and intelligence “community”. This was most clearly illustrated in 2003 when the IISS released a report strongly favouring the UK’s participation in a US-led invasion of Iraq. Like the infamous “sexed-up” report released by the Security Intelligence Service (MI6) just two weeks later, the IISS also warned against Saddam Hussein’s (non-existent) “weapons of mass destruction”. Since 2003 the IISS’s Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk has been Nigel Inkster – formerly the Deputy Director of MI6.
Sounds a cool place to work.

By 2003 Mr Shearer was back with the UN, this time in the Middle East. As the Head of OCHA in Jerusalem and then as the UN’s Humanitarian Relief Coordinator during the Israeli assault on Southern Lebanon and Beirut, he distinguished himself as a fiercely independent upholder of the UN’s mission. Few were surprised, therefore, when, in 2007, after four years of negotiating his way through the labyrinth of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ky Moon, named David Shearer as his Deputy-Special Representative in Iraq. He was also appointed Head of the UN Development Project Iraq. Holding these two very senior roles in the United Nations Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) Mr Shearer was almost certainly “in the room” when decisions about the use of PMSCs were being made. 

Lou Pingeot, author of the New York-based Global Policy Forum’s June 2012 publication Dangerous Partnership: Private Military and Security Companies and the UN, has compiled some useful statistics on the amount of money spent on PMSCs by the UN. “Using the highest available numbers,” he writes, “there is a 250 percent increase in the use of security services from 2006 to 2011.”
The numbers for UNAMI are particularly interesting. In 2007 UNAMI spent zero dollars on PMSCs. In 2009, when its former 2IC was back in New Zealand campaigning for Helen Clark’s old seat of Mt Albert, UNAMI also spent zero dollars. In 2008, however, the amount spent by UNAMI on PMSC’s was US$1,139,745.
Excellent – he practises what he preaches.

Mr Shearer’s position has been explained away as just another case of a good Kiwi bloke, impatient to get the job done, and not being particularly fussed about how things are made to happen – or by whom. And if the universal experience of mercenary involvement in “peace-making” was as positive as Executive Outcome’s foray into Sierra Leone, the argument might have some force. In reality, however, Executive Outcome’s success in Sierra Leone stands out as a very lonely exception to a much darker rule. 

The actual, on-the-ground, operational conduct of PMSCs over the past decade has demonstrated to the world just how dangerous it is to entrust the delivery of deadly force to individuals and corporations whose primary motivation is profit. Yet even in the face of the PMSCs’ appalling conduct in the Balkans and Iraq, Mr Shearer remains sympathetic towards private armies and mercenaries.
The Labour Leader’s on-going support for these private-sector problem-solvers speaks volumes – and very little is to his credit.
I disagree. Just because some private mercenary armies have done bad things, is no reason to have an ideological opposition to all private mercenary armies. We should judge them on outcomes.
UPDATE: A staff member in David Shearer’s office (Mike Smith) has complained at The Standard that a commenter there has referred to the Trotter story:
A good example showed up in the same Open Mike, where Karol referred us to Chris Trotter’s latest post on Bowalley Road, titled “Who is David Shearer?”, promising a post of his/her own on the matter.
I’m not sure it is a great strategy to try and tell readers off for what they mention in the general debate or open mike threads.
Trotter’s post reprises an old canard, obviously a product of the National Party opposition research team. that was first put up by David Farrar on Kiwiblog in 2009 when Shearer first emerged as a candidate for Mt Albert.
Mike is wrong here. The information on Shearer’s writings did not come from anyone in National, but in fact a leftwing (is there any other sort?) academic.
So we have Chris Trotter from the non-Labour left dredging up an old story originally planted on National’s behalf by Farrar’s Kiwiblog, and recently linked to by National’s Whaleoil. Now Karol, also from the non-Labour left, is apparently going to join them in another futile attempt to discredit Labour’s leader.
Oh dear, now Mike is sounding like a certain Labour MP who used to rant about the non-Labour left.
None of them have the interests of Labour at heart. It is an old problem for Labour, when the outside left links with the far right to drag Labour down. The right at least know that their only real opposition as a government is Labour; who would know what the others’ motive is.
Never mind that Chris Trotter actually campaigned for Labour in 2008. I saw him wearing a Labour rosette. But now it seems that the “non-Labour left” are akin to Judean People’s Front.
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Labour on electricity assets

July 24th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

Speaking to a group of corporate head-hunters on July 11, Mr Parker spelled out the details of Labour’s policy on foreign investment. Concerned to prevent “infrastructure assets with monopoly characteristics” from being sold to offshore buyers, Labour, in the run-up to last year’s election, drew up a “closed list” – to keep a “bright line” between “what is to be sold and what is not”. Among the infrastructure that was not to be sold were any electricity line, water storage or irrigation networks; seaports or airports; and public hospitals, schools, railway lines or roads.

Not included in Labour’s “closed list” were telecommunications networks and – amazingly – “electricity generators”.

According to Labour’s policy: “While the electricity market is on the cusp of becoming uncompetitive and exhibits monopoly-like characteristics, generation assets are diverse in nature, location and ownership.”

What this means is that although Labour went into the last general election on a policy of “no asset sales”; and in spite of the fact that its campaign advertising showed a vast banner displaying that very message being draped over a hydro-electricity generating dam, the party was unwilling to include electricity generators on the list of state-owned infrastructure that “ought to be run in the New Zealand interest” – and never be sold to foreigners.

Am I alone in thinking that Labour’s foreign investment policy fatally compromises its current campaign against asset sales? If the generation of electricity is an activity which properly belongs to the market, and if New Zealand’s electricity generation assets are “diverse in nature, location and ownership” and, therefore, able to be purchased by foreign interests, then I’m at a loss to know why the Labour Party is opposed to their partial privatisation.

In one sense you can argue that there is no contradiction. The foreign investment policy deals with assets owned by the private sector while the privatisation policy is about assets owned by the Government.

However considering the hysteria from Labour over minority share-holdings in some SOE energy companies, it is interesting to contrast that with their policy that it would be fine for (for example) a foreign company to buy all of Contact Energy or Todd Energy.

Also useful to contrast to their record in office. They claim they are now against any foreign investment in electricity lines companies, yet they approved the sale of the Wellington lines company.

At the end of the day, you have to wonder if Labour actually stands for anything, apart from wanting to be in power.

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Trotter on Shearer

July 9th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

I’m starting to get the impression that Chris Trotter is not hugely confident in Labour’s ability to win. He blogs:

For a while, it looked as though Labour had found just such an emblem. David Shearer’s story, like John Key’s, begins with an ordinary bloke setting forth on a journey, during which he encounters all manner of monsters – from Somali warlords to murderous Israeli settlers – learning in the process the magic spells for opening the human heart to compassion, justice and reconciliation. He, too, returns to his people and, at the crucial moment, steps forward from the shadows to declare that he is the one destined to lay low the National Party usurper.

Except he hadn’t learned the spells, or, if he had, he could no longer remember them.
It’s as if Arthur stepped up to the sword in the stone, gave it a confident tug – and nothing happened. Instead of a sword flashing in the sunlight above his head, proof positive that he was “rightwise King born of all England”, the weapon stays exactly where it is, and the hero, with an embarrassed shrug, picks up a guitar instead.
There are, of course, many variations on the classic hero tale. Instead of acquiring forbidden knowledge and inheriting mysterious powers, the hero is often required to overcome a series of obstacles and/or eliminate a host of adversaries before completing his quest. In doing so he blazes a trail and lays a path for those who follow after him. Think of the Labours of Heracles, or Theseus’s struggle with the Minotaur, or Luke Skywalker’s destruction of the Death Star in Star Wars.
Does Labour have another hero? And, if it does, can we assume that the first obstacles and adversaries he must overcome are all inside his own party?
I wonder whom Chris might be referring to?
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Dom Post and Trotter on Urewera sentence

May 29th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The facts, as set out during sentencing by Justice Rodney Hansen, are these: in January, September and October 2007 Iti organised, and the others participated in, a series of camps, or rama, near Ruatoki. During the camps semi-automatic weapons, sawn-off shotguns, and sporting rifles were fired. In addition, Molotov cocktails were made and thrown at one of the camps. When police terminated their surveillance operation, three rifles, two of them semi-automatic, were found under a tarpaulin at Iti’s Ruatoki house, four rifles and a semi-automatic shotgun were found in the boot of Kemara’s car and in a caravan he occupied, and a .22 rifle was found in a backpack at a Wellington campsite occupied by Signer and Bailey.

I think the Police said a total of 18 firearms were found, and none of these people were licenses to have them.

A crime committed in pursuit of laudable objectives is just as much a crime as a crime committed for base motives. Those who have rushed to defend Iti and his fellows should ask themselves how they would react if a group of white supremacists was found to be covertly preparing for guerilla warfare.

A point I also made. We should condemn anyone who mixes politics with guns. Europe bears the scars of such legacies.

The sentences are just. They serve as a warning not just to Iti and his fellows, but to others of all political persuasions that political activity must fall within the bounds of the law.

The rule of law depends upon all being equal before the law.

The deterrent factor is important.

Chris Trotter blogs:

The persons arrested as a result of “Operation Eight” were not held incommunicado, denied access to legal advice and tortured until they confessed. Nor were they tried and executed in secret. On the contrary, they were given a fair trial in an open court and only convicted on a number of firearms charges. Two of the accused were jailed for two-and-a-half years. Their convictions and their sentences are now being appealed.

 So, no. The “real life” Tame Iti is not the same as the fictional hero “Smith” played by Sam Neill. He was not fighting a murderous dictatorship. He was not being hunted down by US “advisers”. Nor were he and his followers being strafed and bombed by RNZAF Skyhawks.
What Mr Iti does appear to have been doing, however, was giving practical effect to the numerous discussions, extending over many decades, in which Maori nationalists and their far-Left Pakeha allies have weighed the pros and cons of organising a revolutionary Maori army.
Of course maybe there was another explanation, but we have yet to hear it – apart from the nonsense about peace activists wanting to work as security guards in Iraq.
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Trotter on Cunliffe’s muzzling

May 15th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter, like Brian Edwards, is aghast at the muzzling of David Cunliffe. He writes in the Dom Post:

David Shearer’s decision to muzzle his rival, David Cunliffe, is deeply worrying.

Right now, there’s nothing Labour needs more than an open debate about its future.

That its leader and the coterie of courtiers with which he has surrounded himself were willing to go to the extraordinary lengths of preventing Labour’s spokesperson on economic development from appearing on TV3’s The Nation reveals how ruthlessly Shearer’s faction intends to stifle all dissent.

Shearer’s petty, politically self-destructive decision can only be interpreted as Cunliffe’s punishment for delivering a speech to his New Lynn electorate’s women’s branch highly critical of Labour’s fraught, 25-year association with neo- liberal economics.

Clearly, the disparity between the Labour leader’s three uninspiring “positioning” speeches, and the compellingly radical content of Cunliffe’s April 29 address, had rankled.

The disparity is probably what was worrying his staff. What if Cunliffe went on The Nation and shone?

According to Garner, Cunliffe’s critics described his speech as “stupid and foolish”. Labour’s “Leadership Group”, advised of The Nation’s invitation, then weighed the issue and decided Cunliffe should not appear. The Nation failed to change their minds.

This sort of overt factional squabbling has not been seen in the Labour Party for more than 15 years. Throughout Helen Clark’s record-breaking reign as leader, open dissent was almost always cast as treason. …

Labour’s full recovery as a vibrant, creative and politically relevant organisation cannot be secured except by a radical opening-up of the party. Interestingly, recent reports about Labour’s organisational restructuring exercise suggest this may be happening.

The party’s constitutional review committee is rumoured to have recommended that rank-and-file members be given a deliberative voice in the choice of party leader, as well as an effective veto over sudden, caucus-inspired, leadership spills.

Unsurprisingly, it is also rumoured that Labour’s caucus is doing all it can to prevent such changes coming into immediate effect. The party’s annual conference in November promises to be a bloody affair.

I’m tempted to register as media and attend with popcorn :-)

Courtiers make poor campaigners. As Game of Thrones addicts know, power is not always to be found among the wielders of swords.

As often as not it lies in the hands of eunuchs and whoremasters: the manipulators, tricksters and casters-of-shadows who keep their daggers hidden and seldom venture beyond the palace gates.

Heh, as a former parliamentary staffer I might fall into that description. I’d prefer to be a whoremaster than a eunuch I have to say :-)

If Shearer believes the country will be best served by turning the Ship of State’s tiller hard to starboard, then let him say so, and let him and his faction spell out clearly what the policy implications of such a rightward shift would be.

Cunliffe has made it clear that he believes a sharp leftward turn to be in order. How exhilarating and liberating it would be, not simply for the Labour Party, but for the whole country, to see this debate played out.

How depressing, therefore, to learn that, instead of welcoming Cunliffe’s offering, his jealous courtier colleagues described it as “stupid and foolish”.

I think the time for that debate was when there was a leadership vacancy.

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