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.

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.

Absolutely.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

Trotter on Cunliffe

May 8th, 2012 at 10:30 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

 I drove home with three conclusions:

One: the deeply cynical and self-destructive folly of Labour’s caucus in refusing to make Cunliffe their leader.

Two: the MP for New Lynn’s singular and radical understanding of the need to steer Labour into the new, fast-flowing tides of historical change.

Three: that if anyone can persuade the quiet suburbs of New Zealand to accept and embrace the need for change; it’s David Cunliffe.

If Shearer does not last the distance, the battle between Cunliffe and Robertson will be massive. It will be Auckland v Wellington and more.

The Cunliffe speech

April 30th, 2012 at 3:18 pm by David Farrar

David Cunliffe delivered a speech yesterday that has many Labour and left activists praising it. It is a speech well outside his area of economic development (He is Economic Development, not Finance spokesperson after Shearer demoted him), and is an effective state of the nation or state of the party speech. I have seen these speeches before, and inevitably when portfolio spokespersons give speeches like this, they are wanting a certain job. Some extracts:

You know that at the last election, the one that we lost so badly, nearly 1 million people didn’t vote. Over 800,000 people: a fifth of the population didn’t vote.

Now you know, there are lots of reasons that people didn’t vote, and there were even more reasons why people didn’t vote for Labour. Let me give you just a few.

The major reason that voters didn’t vote for Labour, and sometimes didn’t vote at all, is simply that Labour failed to inspire voters that it was a credible alternative to National. …

I want to be clear from the outset that this speech represents my own views and does not pretend to represent overall Labour policy. All policies are being reviewed in the post-election period. 

All the classic signs. “My personal views”. “Why we failed”. The implication is “Why we continue to fail”.

When the right-wing party says that it’s going to cut your leg off, voters want the left-wing party to say that it’s not going to cut your leg off. Voters don’t want to be told that the left-wing party is also going to cut your leg off, but cut it off a bit lower down and give you some anesthetic.

 I think that’s a major reason that nearly one million voters deserted us at the last election. It wasn’t because we failed to communicate our policies. Quite the opposite. Those voters saw that our policies – with the exception of asset sales – were mostly the same as National’s. So we can’t really be surprised at the result.

This is a clear call to arms for the left activists. Never mind the reality they were promising $70 more a week to beneficiaries and the like, and most commentator said their policies under Goff were more left-wing than even under Helen Clark. Cunliffe needs the left activist base. The activist base is always less moderate that the supporters. The average National activist is well to the right of a National Government, and the average Labour activist well to the left of a Labour Government.

But you’d never know this if you listened to John Key. Like a quack doctor whose cure has failed, his response is to double the dose until the patient is dead.

 Sorry, John, but let me quote Sir Winston Churchill:

“The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.”

No matter how many politicians and economists still defend the economic policies that led us into this mess, the truth is steadily showing itself.

The obligatory Churchill quote every leadership speech has.

Labour has a new leader with strong values, who’s focused on reconnecting with the voters and has the courage to stand up to bullies. It’s up to us, as a Party, to share with our leader, our hopes, our fears and our dreams, to reconstruct the Party from within, to reclaim our natural constituency of decent, ordinary New Zealanders who believe in fairness and hard work.

This paragraph is astonishing. It strongly implies that the leader does not already share their hopes, fears and dreams. It is a call to action for activists to back Cunliffe’s views and policies and insist Shearer implements them, with a clear implication about what may happen if he does not.

But we didn’t. And we don’t have to back away from creating policies that can turn us away from the economic insanity of the last three decades.

David Cunliffe was a Minister in the last Labour Government. He is now saying that the economic polices of that Government were insane. This is what you do when trying to position yourself as a new leader.

What I find surprising in this speech is not that Cunliffe is making a leadership style speech, but that he has done so in such an unsubtle way. Normally these things are much more subtle and coded. I have never seen an MP urge activists to “share” their views with the leader, in a way which suggests he is out of touch.

The other interesting thing is events of the last week. First we have top Auckland Labour Party official, Greg Presland, who blogged last Wednesday praising David Cunliffe. He implied the Robertson camp was behind the attacks on both Cunliffe and Shearer, and openly said:

Cunliffe may now be Shearer’s best chance of survival as Labour Head Office and the Beehive are filled with Robertson supporters. 

Now bear in mind to have your top Auckland official openly talk about the leader not surviving, and how it is is only the good graces of Cunliffe keeping him alive. In National such an official would be outski. Party officials should never ever talk about how the Leader is struggling to survive.

Then two days later on Friday Chris Trotter blogged:

I was wrong about David Shearer. I made the mistake of believing that a politician with a brilliant back-story couldn’t fail to give us an equally brilliant front-story. …

It’s time for the Labour Caucus to put an end to “the unfortunate experiment” and begin a new one. They could call it “democracy” – and stop taking their party for Grant-ed.

A clear attack on both Shearer, and Grant Robertson, which by omission suggests Cunliffe should be Leader.

Then another two days later, Cunliffe makes a “True Labour” speech, with Tumeke noting:

It was given by David Cunliffe at 2pm Sunday at the Blockhouse Bay Community Centre on his personal beliefs for the economic vision for Labour. 70 people were there by invitation including myself, Chris Trotter and Peter Davis and I have never heard the explanation of why Labour lost the 2011 election and what vision is necessary to regain that support with the passion and intelligence that Cunliffe brought to it. 

Cunliffe launched a personal vision of what I’d call ‘True Labour’, a renouncing of the neo liberal agenda and an explanation that the reason a million enrolled voters didn’t bother to vote Labour was because despite a few policy differences, Labour was still the lighter shade of blue. 

Now I am sure this is all a coincidence because I am a trusting sort of person. But someone more cynical and suspicious than me might wonder about the timing of all this.

UPDATE: Am sure this David Cunliffe campaign website is also a coincidence and is really aimed for the general election in 31 months time.

The unfortunate experiment

April 27th, 2012 at 8:58 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

CONFESSION, THEY SAY, is good for the soul, so I have a confession to make. I was wrong about David Shearer. I made the mistake of believing that a politician with a brilliant back-story couldn’t fail to give us an equally brilliant front-story. Well, as Sportin’ Life tells the true believers in Porgy & Bess:

 “It ain’t necessarily so.”
And, now I (and I suspect you) know it ain’t so. David Shearer is a thoroughly likeable, thoroughly decent bloke, and his record at the United Nations is truly inspirational, but, come on, let’s face it: he ain’t anybody’s kind of leader.
David Shearer, like David Lange, is a creature of the factional and personal animosities dividing the Labour caucus. Bluntly: he was put there by an unholy alliance of right- and left-wing MPs to prevent the Labour Party’s choice, David Cunliffe, from taking the top job.
Personally I think people are over-reacting. It has only been three months since Parliament resumed this year. But stories like this become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But those two speeches showed not the slightest trace of “big picture” thinking. On the contrary, they showed every sign of having been inspired by an Auckland-based focus-group, and composed by a Wellington-based committee. The only picture they painted was one that revealed Labour’s deficiencies. That not only did the party lack leadership, but it also lacked ideas. 
This is the problem you get when Labour doesn’t know what it stands for, apart from opposing National.

So, what have we learned from this debacle? What has Labour learned?

If by “Labour” you mean its caucus, I would say absolutely nothing. If you’re talking about the party itself, nothing it didn’t know already: that Caucus picked the wrong guy.
It’s time for the Labour Caucus to put an end to “the unfortunate experiment” and begin a new one. They could call it “democracy” – and stop taking their party for Grant-ed.
I read this as a pretty clear sign that if or when Shearer falls, Robertson will not become Leader unopposed. You can see this in the Waitakere News blog by Mickey Savage who says:

Nothing good will come of this activity.  It is damaging to the party.  Despite National being in disarray the polls are static.  Labour is not moving upward.  A hint of disarray is the worst thing that a party can show.

And interestingly Cunliffe may now be Shearer’s best chance of survival as Labour Head Office and the Beehive are filled with Robertson supporters. 
This continuous attack on Cunliffe and the current undermining of Shearer show the same techniques being used and suggest strongly that the same “mastermind” is behind this.  In the interests of the party and of the country they should stop. 
MS does not say who this mastermind is, but by process of elimination there can’t be many choices. The Shearer v Cunliffe leadership contest was a fairly friendly good natured affair. I’m not sure a Robertson v Cunliffe contest will be.
In related news, Tracy Watkins at the Dom Post reports:

The Labour leader’s office appears to be in turmoil after David Shearer’s chief of staff abruptly left Wellington.

Former Labour MP Stuart Nash, who has been in the job just a few months, was seen leaving Parliament yesterday after a meeting with Mr Shearer’s incoming chief of staff Alistair Cameron. He later confirmed that he would be working on projects from his home in Napier for the next couple of weeks. He is due to finish on May 31.

Mr Nash rejected suggestions he had been “frogmarched” out of the building or given orders to clear his desk but his abrupt departure coincides with rising conflict in the Labour Party over Mr Shearer’s continued poor polling and lack of a clear strategy.

It is highly unusual for there not to be a cross-over period, and for one COS to leave before the next one starts – especially if the outgoing one has no job to go to.

Some of that conflict has been laid bare in leaks to a Right-wing blog that could only have come from either senior MPs or highly placed members of the leadership team.

Or both 🙂

UPDATE: And by coincidence David Cunliffe has a column in the Herald on how NZ needs better leadership.

Trotter on Crafar sale

February 3rd, 2012 at 12:04 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes at Stuff:

At the risk of being branded a “traitor”, I’m declaring my support for the Crafar farms sale. Not because I like seeing productive New Zealand farmland pass into the hands of foreigners, I don’t.

The reason I’m in favour is because I believe New Zealanders should keep their promises and fulfil their undertakings.

In 2008, this country ratified a free-trade agreement with the People’s Republic of China. It was hailed as the most important foreign policy and trade achievement of the 1999-2008 Helen Clark-led government. Not only was it the first such agreement to be signed between China and a Western-style democracy, but it also offered New Zealand businesses immense economic opportunities. …

It was all the more perplexing, then, to hear Opposition leader David Shearer declaring his and the Labour Party’s opposition to the sale. It’s simply inconceivable that Mr Shearer is unaware of the MFN prohibition against denying China the same right to buy land as the nations that bought upwards of 650,000 hectares of our national patrimony exercised when Helen Clark was Prime Minister, and Mr Shearer’s friend (and former boss) Phil Goff was the Minister of Trade.

To avoid the inevitable charges of rank hypocrisy and populist opportunism, Mr Shearer needed to accompany his statement opposing the sale with an announcement that Labour was committed, immediately on regaining office, to repudiating the New Zealand-China FTA and tightening up the legislation regulating overseas investment.

I’m still waiting for those other shoes to drop. And, frankly, I think I’ll go on waiting. Why? Because I simply don’t believe Labour is about to abandon its long-standing commitment to free trade. Nor am I confident Mr Shearer is any more willing to court the fury and retaliatory trade restrictions of the Chinese government than Mr Key. Both are well aware that this country’s future prosperity is inextricably bound up with China’s.

I actually see the deal as an exciting one. A partnership between Shanghai Pengxin and Landcorp has huge potential opportunities. The combination of their market contacts and capital, and our land and expertise could be golden.

Squashed

January 18th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Despite the considerable union influence within his party and calls for him to offer support to Maritime Union members, new Labour leader David Shearer has kept quiet on the matter.

Yesterday Labour industrial relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton, who has been spotted on the picket line at the port, said her party was not taking sides in the dispute.

“We’ve been hoping that the parties will settle this, that they’ll find a way through this.”

You’ve been on the picket line, and now you’re saying you’re not taking sides? I think someone has squashed Darien.

Ms Fenton said Mr Shearer had been in regular touch with both sides, “and he’s in contact with me and we’re all discussing it regularly”.

“Our strong view at this point is it’s not helpful for politicians to get involved.”

Apart from being on the picket line?

I suspect that strong view is Mr Shearer’s.

Chris Trotter did an open letter to Shearer yesterday urging him to wade in:

Ultimately, isn’t it about answering the question: “Who is strong enough to stop the stone-throwers?” The men and women who formed the Labour Party in 1916 decided that the answer to that question was the State. If the State could be made to stop working for those who already exercised power, and began instead to work for those who were powerless, then a political party seeking to put an end to poverty, war and injustice would have a fighting chance.
Labour was formed to create a State that wasn’t neutral; a state that never stood on the side-lines when working people were being threatened and abused. Labour was about intervention: constant, massive, intelligent and creative intervention on behalf of the weak and against the strong.
It’s time to bid farewell to the white sands and the Pohutukawa blossoms, Mr Shearer, and come on down to the Auckland wharves. It’s time to cast aside the gathered cloaks of a spurious and culpable “neutrality” and place yourself and your party between the stone-throwers and their victims. It’s time to end the silence.
Chris writes beautifully, and his wonderfully penned missive almost had me wanting to rush down to the picket line. But the reality is that this is not a romantic battle between the forces of oppression and victims of oppression.
Shearer has made the right call staying out of it. If he rushed in, he would look like a puppet, not a principled politician.
And I’m not sure defending the right of people to be paid for 43 hours but only work 28 hours, is quite the same as being against the stoning of Christian martyrs, or seeing starving kids in the Sudan scrabbling over scraps of food.

Trotter calls for Shearer/Cunliffe ticket

December 9th, 2011 at 9:28 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

Now Mr Shearer was a serious contender, but his new front-runner status came at a price. Like David Lange before him, he was no longer his own man. Labour’s spent forces, the MPs epitomised by the politically exhausted figure of Trevor Mallard, were now wrapped around Mr Shearer like supplejack around a totara. And they were clinging to him for only one reason: survival. Their arch-enemy, Mr Cunliffe, had long ago read their use-by dates. That’s why the ABCs couldn’t allow him to win.

But, if Mr Cunliffe cannot defeat Mr Shearer, he can, at least, defeat Mr Shearer’s backers. A rejuvenated, restructured, or, to borrow Labour stalwart Jordan Carter’s term, “refounded” Labour Party cannot be created by a glove-puppet.

Glove-puppet is too harsh a term, but Trotter is right that there is concern that Shearer with his relative inexperience and less alpha male personality could become the front guy for basically the same old group of MPs who entered Parliament under the 4th Labour Government and should have no part in the 6th Labour Government.

If Mr Cunliffe cannot beat Mr Shearer, then he should, over the next 72 hours, think very seriously about joining him. It’s not too late for the best qualified candidate to contact the most popular candidate; set up a meeting; and make a deal. Mr Key and Mr English did it – why not Mr Shearer and Mr Cunliffe?

Together, they’ve more than enough strength to tear off and make a bonfire of all that parasitic caucus supplejack. Together, they could bend the arc of history towards a Labour victory. Together, a new power curve could hurl their fighters skywards heading for the National fleet.

Cunliffe has gone out of his way to say that Shearer would be on his front bench, but Shearer won’t make the same commitment (on the basis he won’t commit to anyone). However media reports have made it pretty clear that the intention is if he wins, that Parker is Finance Spokesperson and Robertson Deputy, hence demoting Cunliffe. I think this would be a mistake.

I’m not saying that if Shearer wins that Cunliffe should be his Deputy. But I am saying he should at a minimum keep him on as Finance Spokesperson and have him part of the inner team. They would be a good combination.

Trotter calls for an end to unions joining Labour

December 3rd, 2011 at 10:58 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

WHAT MUST LABOUR DO to be welcomed back by ordinary Kiwis? What are the things it has to find, and what must it lose?
The first thing it has to lose is trade union affiliation. The big private sector unions still associated with the Labour Party: the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) and the Service and Food Workers Union; must be cut loose – and soon.
I write those words with a heavy heart, because it was the affiliated union vote that elected me to the New Zealand Council of the Labour Party way back in 1987. In those grim years unionists were the backbone of the opposition to Rogernomics. They kept the flame of the true Labour faith flickering through the party’s darkest days. And it was the block-votes of the trade union affiliates which kept Helen Clark’s political machine ticking over so reliably for the 15 long years it controlled the party.
Even so, it’s time for them to go.
Many people do not realise that several unions do not just support Labour by way of donating money and staff time, but are in fact members of the Labour Party, with significant powers. I am of the view that political parties should only have natural persons as members, and all members should have equal voting strength. This is normally referred to as “one person, one vote”.
National does not allow businesses (or associations of businesses) to join the National Party, to vote at conferences, to help rank the party list and to vote at candidate selections. There would be outrage if (for example) the Auckland Chamber of Commerce got to vote on who should be National’s candidate for (eg) Tamaki or Pakuranga. And could you imagine the outcry if National had a representative from Business NZ sitting on its list ranking committee.
But the days when unions constituted a genuinely representative social, economic and political force are long gone – and with their democratic credentials has gone the rationale for the role they continue to play in the Labour Party. In the private sector workforce barely one worker in ten is unionised. The constitution of the public sector-dominated Council of Trade Unions swept away the democratic traditions which had animated the local trades councils and concentrated all power in the hands of a gaggle of union officials at the very summit of the organisation.
What’s more, the “electorate” responsible for electing these top officials has shrunk alarmingly. In more and more unions leaders are elected not by a postal ballot of the rank-and-file, but by a few score of hand-picked delegates at the union’s annual conference. What were formerly the powerhouses of working-class democracy; and the generators of workers’ power; have become self-selecting oligarchies, against which all dissent crashes and burns.
The Labour Party rules give significant power to unions that join Labour. There are five unions that have affiliated and they have 75,719 members between them. Their voting strength is based on what percentage of their members voted to affiliate. This info is not public but let us assume it is 75% on average which gives them 55,000 notional members.
Those 55,000 notional members are divided up amongst the 70 electorates based on the Labour Party vote (ie if an electorate gets 2% of the overall Labour Party vote, then the union voting strength in that electorate is 2% of 55,000 or 1,100 notional members. On average 55,000/70 is 785 members per electorate. As you can imagine, this is vastly more than the actual number of individual members. Based on current union numbers and assuming a 75% voting strength, the average electorate committee would have unions entitled to 14 delegates on the LEC – EPMU 6, SWFU 4, DWU 2, RMU 1, MU 1. The maximum size of an LEC is 30 members so at an electorate level unions can easily dominate should they wish to.
At the annual conference which sets policy, unions get 3 votes for the first 1,000 members and then 1 vote per member after that. So based on 55,000 notional members they get 115 votes. Certainly not a majority, but still a very significant bloc.  It is equal to around 29 electorates.
In terms of selection meetings, unions have multiple routes of influence. If they dominate the LEC, they can get two of their own elected to the selection committee. They can also get any of their members who live in the electorate to attend the selection meeting and vote for one of their own from the floor to join the selection committee. And they can also dominate the floor vote for preferred candidate, which counts as one of seven votes on the committee.
The affiliate unions also have significant representation on regional list ranking conferences.
If Labour wants to do the working-class a big favour it will purge its party of these oligarchs and welcome workers into the party as ordinary rank-and-file members. Who knows, if enough of them join up, they might even be able to persuade Labour’s MPs (including those who owe their positions on the Party List to the machinations of the Affiliates Council’s wise old heads) to rebuild New Zealand’s trade unions to Twenty-First Century specifications – most particularly by requiring them to operate, from bottom to top, as inclusive, transparent and recognisably democratic institutions.
This is the democratic way to do it. Don’t give union bosses card votes where they can outvote individual members. Don’t allow someone to turn up to and vote at a selection meeting who has never participated in the Labour Party previously. Unions can and should encourage their members to join and get involved in Labour, but the unions themselves should not get rights of representation in a modern democratic party. I strongly believe that only natural persons should be eligible to join a political party – not unions and businesses.
Almost everyone in Labour is saying they are unhappy with the 2011 list ranking, where some of their more talented new MPs were given lower rankings than other MPs with union support and backgrounds. Will anyone in Labour be bold enough to agree with Chris Trotter and call for reform of their candidate selection and ranking rules?

Trotter on Mana

October 11th, 2011 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter blogs:

For a while there it looked as though the Mana Party just might turn into something worthwhile – a second chance for all those who were dismayed to see the Alliance crash and burn over Afghanistan back in 2001-2002.

But, no. Mana’s announcement that Kereama Pene, a minister of the Ratana Church, is to contest the Tamaki Makaurau seat has put an end to all that.
Mr Pene is a flamboyant character who has, at one time or another, been a supporter of the Mana Motuhake, Labour, Destiny and Maori parties. He is also on record as saying the Prime Minister, John Key, is “ a person who should be admired”.
Not content with singing the Prime Minister’s praises, Mr Pene has also publicly declared that: “National is actually the group that have done most of the great things for Maoridom over the past 20 years.” Identifying (erroneously) the Treaty Settlements Process, the Waitangi Tribunal and the Kohanga Reo Movement as National Party achievements, Mana’s Tamaki Makaurau candidate told the NZ Herald: “You’ve got to give praise where its due.”
These statements show Mr Pene to be, at best, a dangerously naive political novice, or, at worst, a ticking time-bomb, guaranteed to explode at the worst possible moment. His remarks have deeply compromised the Mana Party at a time when political journalists are already discussing its lack of momentum, and its failure to capitalise on Leader Hone Harawira’s success in retaining the Te Tai Tokerau seat. …
Too late now. Mr Pene’s selection is proof positive that not only is Mana’s talent pool woefully shallow – so, too, is its political judgement.
I almost hope that Mana gets more than one MP into Parliament so we can see them start to infight.

Trotter on Labour Auslanders

October 4th, 2011 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter blogs:

YOU JUST DON’T GET IT, do you Labour? You don’t understand, even now, what National’s done to you? Well, let me tell you. They have transformed you into auslander – foreigners, aliens, exiles in your own country. You’ve been excluded from the ranks of “the people”. You’ve been pushed outside the circle, beyond the Pale. You no longer belong among “us” – you belong with “them”.
And you’ve no one to blame but yourselves.
Labour will no doubt dismiss Chris’ views as a member of the VRWNLLWC.
Key’s message was simple: “It doesn’t matter where you were born, or what you parents did: you can and should aspire to a better life. National has no intention of molly-coddling you. Unlike Labour, we don’t regard you as suitable cases for treatment – but as sovereign individuals. What does that mean? It means you must take responsibility for your failures, but, equally, you have the right to enjoy the full fruits of your successes. National isn’t offering to carry you – you’re not children. But, we are offering to clear away all unnecessary obstacles from your path. Labour needs you as weak and pathetic victims; desperate for, and dependent on, the state’s largesse. National says: ‘Stand up. Be strong. Make your own future!’”
It was a potent message. Because Key was offering working-class Kiwis nothing less than the opportunity to stand alongside National’s rich and powerful supporters and be counted among the “real” New Zealanders. These are the New Zealanders who don’t rely on other people’s taxes to pay their bills. The New Zealanders who try, fail, try again – and succeed. The New Zealanders who believe that with guts and determination they, and just about anybody, can and will – “make it”
If you believed in these things, then you could stand among John’s people. If you didn’t – you couldn’t.
If you rejected the values of rugged individualism. If you placed your faith in the largesse of the state. If you looked upon the labour and laughter of ordinary people with “cold dead alien eyes”, and regarded them as “suitable cases for treatment”, then you weren’t one of “us”, you were one of “them”. Something odd. Something foreign. Something unconnected. Something incapable of attracting more than 30 percent of the popular vote. Something from somewhere else.
Auslander.
I can see that term catching on.

Trotter on National and Labour

September 27th, 2011 at 1:07 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes at Stuff:

They weren’t the most important events of the past week. In fact, in a world racked by economic crisis and intractable conflict, they weren’t important at all.

But, as is so often the case with small, seemingly trivial events, they were highly instructive. They told us why John Key’s National Party will have to work very hard to lose the forthcoming election, and why – barring a miracle – Labour hasn’t the slightest chance of winning it.

So what is Chris referring to?

The first event involved a visit by the Prime Minister to Canterbury University.  …

Except for the sign that fourth-year mechanical engineering students had stuck to the “Mech Suite” window overlooking the PM’s arrival-point.

“John, mate,” read the sign, “come up for a yarn with your country’s future engineers.”

The Prime Minister spotted the sign and, yep, you guessed it, to the whoops and hollers of the (mostly male) students he came up.

But wait, there’s more. Not only did the PM come up, but he also agreed to match one of his larger and more terrifying DPS bodyguards against the students’ massive arm-wrestling champion, “Mad Dog”. …

What matters is that a) John Key was up for it, and carried it off with considerable aplomb. And b) The whole event is now available to the electorate via the internet. Just three days after it was first posted, more than 13,000 people had watched the YouTube clip.

Which is quite a lot for a 10 minute video.

And the other event?

In a posting headed “Bill English Funds Bryce Edwards”, the Labour caucus’ chief election strategist, Trevor Mallard, launched a vicious attack on the young Otago University academic Dr Bryce Edwards for his, at times, highly critical assessments of the Labour Opposition’s performance. …

It is difficult to know where to begin with this outburst.

That it was made by the caucus’s chief strategist raises a whole host of questions about the nature of the election campaign Labour is intending to run.

Does Phil Goff sanction this stuff? We can only hope that he does not endorse the sort of crude ad hominem arguments featured in Mallard’s posting.

We must hope, too, that Labour’s appeal to the electorate is fuelled by emotions considerably less disreputable than the petty spitefulness and partisan hostility which it displays.

To be fair, it is not all in Labour who act like this. But they sit back and enable it by having Mallard as their “chief strategist”.

And this is how they act in Opposition. It is worse when they are in Government, when they can actually use the powers of office to strike back at those who dare criticise.

Trotter concludes:

All elections have a “tone”: a mode of address to the voting public which (largely unconsciously) “cues” their response to the competing parties.

If we compare and contrast the tone of the YouTube clip of the PM’s visit to the Mech Suite, with the tone of Mallard’s Red Alert posting, picking the election result becomes a cinch. Sometimes, little things generate big consequences.

I recall Chris wearing a red Labour rosette in the lead up to the last election. Now Labour probably dismiss him as a member of the VRWNLLWC.

Trotter on Broadcasting/Media

September 26th, 2011 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter, in a thread at Red Alert, proposes a media policy for Labour, being:

1) Establishes an hypothocated Broadcasting Fund large enough to sustain an independent, publicly-owned, free-to-air television and radio network, with statutory obligations to deliver quality, locally-produced content to all New Zealanders.

I actually am reasonably supportive of this aim. We currently pour $230 million a year into public broadcasting, and a BBC-style broadcaster could be affordable with that money. However the challenge is to stop it becoming a mouth-piece for the left, as so many public broadcasters do. As they are taxpayer funded, they have an incentive to support parties that wish to increase taxes.

The idea of a dedicated fund, so it is not directly taxpayer funded has some merit. What I would do is sell off TVNZ entirely, and use the proceeds from it to establish such a fund.

2) Prohibits the cross-ownership of media platforms (i.e. a newspaper cannot also own a radio station, or a television network – and vice-versa).

3) Restricts the private ownership of the news media to New Zealand citizens – who will be barred from owning more than a single media outlet (i.e. one newspaper, one radio station, one TV station).

When you take these two together, it would kill off almost every newspaper in NZ. Making money out of a newspaper is getting very difficult. Fairfax and APN manage it because they can share resources and copy. If you implemented Comrade Trotter’s manifesto then I’d say the number of newspapers in New Zealand would shrink to around three or four.

Chris would have every single radio station, newspaper and TV station owned by a different New Zealander. My rough count is we have close to 100 newspapers and 200 radio stations. I suspect many of those would disappear lacking owners willing to risk hundreds of thousands of dollars on them.

4) Creates a Media Complaints Tribunal with wide powers to ensure fairness, balance and accuracy in all forms of media.

Good God. I hate to think. Will it have the power to actually take over news-rooms to ensure “fairness” or just to imprison journalists who do not do what the state tells them is fair?

Trotter on Urerewa 17

September 9th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

A very insightful post by Chris Trotter on what went wrong in the Urewera case.

Trotter endorses Key for second term

August 20th, 2011 at 1:02 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

It is, perhaps, the greatest achievement of John Key’s first term in government that the breakdown in social cohesion that Rob Campbell feared  and which we have just witnessed on the streets of England  has not taken place on our own.

For this the prime minister merits high praise.

What kept us together was his inspired decision to bring the Maori Party into his government. Had he not done so: had he simply relied on National’s natural allies in ACT; things could have been very different. The Maori seats, for example, would have been slated for abolition. This move, alone, threatening as it did the very existence of the Maori Party (and leaving them with dangerously little to lose) would have tested New Zealand’s social cohesion to breaking-point. Serious political disturbances  up to and including terrorist violence  could very easily have torn this country apart.

Simply for sparing us that terrible scenario, Mr Key deserves a second term.

I never thought I would see the day where Chris Trotter endorsed a National Prime Minister for re-election.

Trotter on Labour

April 6th, 2011 at 9:05 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes at Stuff:

Nature abhors a vacuum – and so does politics. With Labour’s front bench and the party’s ruling council both declining to deal decisively with Phil Goff’s inadequate political leadership, Left-leaning voters have been given a powerful incentive to look elsewhere for progressive representation this November.

Not since the early 1990s has Labour provided its competitors with such a huge opportunity to enlarge their electoral support base. …

So long as Labour demonstrates both an appetite for power and the means to attain it, a solid majority of Left-leaning voters will remain in its camp. In such circumstances, Labour’s potential allies, the Greens and NZ First, must be content to trawl for votes at the political margins – scrabbling for the 10-15 per cent of the electorate whose electoral needs Labour cannot, or will not, meet.

But the events of the past fortnight suggest that Labour possesses neither the appetite nor the means for winning power. On the contrary, its caucus and council appear quite blind to their party’s growing leadership deficit. With electoral defeat now regarded as inevitable, the No 1 priority of Labour’s front bench is how to emerge from the post-election bloodletting at the head of the pack.

Trotter is right, that this is a great opportunity for the Greens especially.

Trotter on New Left Party

February 5th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter is very sceptical of a new left party:

No, the people I worried about (and I was not alone) were the 50 to 60 Trotskyites, Maoists, “Permanent Revolutionaries”, Treaty fanatics, hard-core feminists and uncompromising environmentalists who would climb aboard this new political vehicle like Baader-Meinhof terrorists boarding a jet-liner.

Chris is referring to the founding of the New Labour Party.

A crucial element in the success of Jim Anderton (ex-Labour) and Winston Peters (ex-National) was the large number of experienced election campaigners who rallied to their side. These people didn’t have to be taught how to fund-raise, organise a canvassing drive or run an election-day system – they already knew.

“No worries,” say the promoters of a New Left Party, “we’ll just game the MMP system by recruiting Hone Harawira. That way we can avoid the necessity of winning 5 per cent of the party vote. If it’s good enough for Rodney Hide in Epsom, it’s good enough for us.”

Hmmmm? Not sure that’s the slogan you’re looking for, Comrades. Besides, if you really think an electorally poisonous bunch of eco-anarchists, Maori nationalists, unreconstructed 80s feminists and hard-core Marxist-Leninists are going to attract anything like ACT’s vote in 2008, then you’re away with the fairies.

However they will have McCarten, who is a very good organiser.

Just consider the stats: The combined 2008 vote of New Zealand’s Centre-Left parties (Labour Party, Greens, Progressives) was 975,734 or 41.62 per cent of the party vote. Altogether, the Far-Left parties (Alliance, Workers Party, RAM – Residents Action Movement) attracted just 3306 votes or 0.14 per cent.

It’s nowhere near enough, Comrades. Even if he won every vote in Te Tai Tokerau, Hone would still be on his own.

I think Chris overlooks one key thing. The number of activists on the left who are dismayed by Goff-led Labour.

Whale interviews Trotter

January 23rd, 2011 at 11:42 am by David Farrar

An interesting interview with Chris Trotter by Whale Oil.

His thoughts on Labour are especially insightful:

On Labours “Get John Key” campaign:

“Com­pletely mis­taken, did not read the man at all well”

“One sus­pects that they despair of find­ing some other way through.”

On how mod­ern Labour can become more appealing:

“It does very well when it plays to the best, in New Zealan­ders, when it booths artic­u­lates and asks peo­ple to respond to the bright side rather than the dark side of the NZ way of doing things.”

“When they find some­one who can artic­u­late them, as they did with Michael Joseph Sav­age  as they did with Nor­man Kirk, as they cer­tainly did with David Lange, then they are very hard to beat, but if those two things are lack­ing, if they lack some­one who is able to artic­u­late that appeal to New Zealand’s bet­ter angels, to bor­row Abra­ham Lincoln’s famous phrase and if they aren’t dri­ven in a sense by adverse eco­nomic winds then Labour does find it dif­fi­cult his­tor­i­cally to win.”

On Phil Goff:

“He hasn’t demon­strated to date, either the rhetor­i­cal skills nec­es­sary to make that appeal, and cer­tainly to date he hasn’t been able to emote in a way that New Zealan­ders can believe.”

On Labour entic­ing bet­ter candidates:

[They need] “life expe­ri­ence which you cer­tainly don’t get in any great breadth on the ninth floor of the beehive”

 

Trotter on Key

December 29th, 2010 at 12:56 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter examines John Key:

John Key’s greatest political gift is his levity. Which is not to say that the Prime Minister is inappropriately frivolous or comical – although he does have a politically endearing talent for self- deprecating humour. The word’s original meaning was “lightness”, and it is in this sense that I am using it.

In many countries Key’s light touch would not be regarded as an asset. When politicians become prime ministers or presidents in these much older societies they are expected to put on political weight, and to evince at all times a judicious seriousness. In short, they are expected to display gravitas, not levitas.

New Zealanders are more than a little ambivalent on the subject of levitas versus gravitas. On the one hand, we do not expect our leaders to embarrass us on the world stage. On the other, we don’t like leaders who put on too many airs and graces or talk down to us.

Many journalists have remarked that when Key became PM, they thought it was inevitable his behaviour would change – that he might stop answering certain queestions because they were beneath him, might start talking in the third person etc etc – but as most would testify he treats people and media much the same today as when he was Opposition Leader.

Key is certainly a very wealthy man, but that fact alone does not condemn him in the eyes of most New Zealanders. After all, he did not inherit his money – he made it himself, by deploying the skills he was born with to their best effect. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s humble background; the fact that he and his sisters were raised in a state house by their widowed mother; only serves to reinforce his fellow citizen’s confidence in the universal attainability of the New Zealand dream.

A large pile of cash in the bank does, of course, possess the power to levitate just about anyone up, up and away from the daily drudgery of earning a living. For many people, however, the levity money confers can be personally devastating. It either breeds a sneering sense of superiority, or crippling feelings of guilt and/or obligation.

But, Key’s public conduct reflects neither of these classic responses.

His wealth does not appear to have had any malign effect upon him. Miraculously, he has risen above even this.

Hence why Michael Cullen never got much resonance with his rich prick comments.

The Prime Minister is not a connoisseur of fine art. He doesn’t attend the opera. He has penned no books, made no scientific breakthroughs, climbed no mountains, written no songs.

He does not mix with artists or intellectuals, nor does he espouse with any noticeable fervour the grand, all-encompassing ideologies and religions of mankind.

He is, however, a husband and a dad with two teenage kids. He does like to watch the rugby. He turns a mean steak on the family barbecue, and he drinks his beer straight from the bottle – just like hundreds of thousands of ordinary Kiwi blokes.

And more to the point when he does, it looks natural – not some desperate PR plot to make him look like a man of the people.

Trotter on Mana

November 24th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Chris Trotter writes:

Analysing last weekend’s Mana by-election results, I’m wondering if we might be witnessing another seminal political moment. Like the 1972 general election, it is possible that the closely- fought Mana contest holds some crucially important lessons for the major parties.

At the most superficial level, the result was a clear moral triumph for the Government and its very effective candidate, Hekia Parata. In a country only slowly emerging from recession, in an Opposition- held electorate perfectly positioned to send the Government “a message”, it almost beggars belief that the by-election campaign ended with a 14 per cent swing towards the governing party.

A moral triumph indeed. Heh it reminds me of the caption that my brother’s rugby team had on their team photo. It was “Played 15, Won 11, Moral Victories 4” 🙂

Indeed, without radical Left-wing trade unionist Matt McCarten’s last-minute entry to the by-election race, it is entirely possible Parata would have won the seat.

Umm, that is an unusual interpretation.

His challenge to Labour was to give on-the-ground, practical expression to the progressive policy ideas announced at its annual conference by campaigning – as he did – on low wages, inadequate housing and the urgent need for job creation.

Labour’s candidate, the woefully inexperienced television journalist Kris Fa’afoi, wasn’t equal to that challenge, but McCarten’s sudden intervention was sufficiently worrying for the Labour hierarchy to pour everything it had into the Mana campaign.

It was this massive intervention that ensured Fa’afoi’s victory – albeit with a sharply reduced share of the popular vote.

I think Labour were always going to pour everything into the campaign, but McCarten’s candidacy may have cemented that.

To the cynical observer, McCarten’s 3.6 per cent share of the Mana vote might seem derisory. But then, so did the 2 per cent share won by Values in 1972. Besides, there are moments in politics when, as Key told Parata’s jubilant supporters on Saturday night, “losing is winning”.

Hopefully Labour’s “got the message” McCarten was sending it throughout the campaign. That, if it is to successfully counter Key’s (obviously still effective) appeal to aspirational Kiwis, it has to maintain the sort of on-the-street presence for which McCarten and his radical Unite union are justifiably famous, and which, ultimately, is all that rescued Fa’afoi from catastrophic defeat.

But, even more important than getting Labour out on the street, McCarten’s candidacy – like Values’ campaign in 1972 – should remind Labour that getting people to vote is only half the battle; the other half is giving them something to vote for.

What you mean no GST on fruit and veges is not enough?