Labour’s woes

April 26th, 2014 at 12:13 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Could things get any worse for David Cunliffe than they did this week?

It is quite conceivable they might, of course. Cunliffe’s leadership of Labour still has a way to go before it hits rock-bottom. But this week’s very public exhibition of the disunity which flows freely and abundantly from the deep schisms within the party may well have proved to be sufficiently damaging to have put victory in September’s general election out of reach.

Has there ever been another case of such a senior MP retiring from politics not at a scheduled election – but just five months before the election?

Labour’s embarrassment at losing Shane Jones as a result of a quite brilliant piece of politics on Murray McCully’s part left Labour powerless to hit back at National.

But that was no excuse for the outbreak of factional warfare in the form of the Labour left indulging in a danse macabre on Jones’ still warm political corpse.

Yes the fact some have been celebrating the departure of Jones, shows how divided they are.

Jones’ departure immediately prompted an at times bitter argument over whether he had been of any real value to Labour during his nine years in Parliament. As far as those on Labour’s left flank were concerned, he was just an over-ambitious blowhard who had a way with words but who was driven by self-interest, rather than being imbued with team spirit – something which was amply illustrated by the shocking timing of his going as far as his many critics are concerned. They had two words to mark – or rather celebrate – his exit: good riddance.

For those on Labour’s right flank, Jones had been someone who, for all his faults, could reach into segments of the voting public which those on the left professed to represent, but with which they had long lost touch.

I think what some on the left have missed, is that it is not just about Jones – it is about the symbolic importance of an MP effectively saying Labour is now too left wing for me, because they’re too close to the Greens.

With the left of the party running its own agenda which puts purity ahead of pragmatism, Labour’s appeal is shrinking. Those voters whom Labour needs to capture will see Jones’ exit as a further narrowing of Labour’s appeal. The “broad church” is turning into The Temple of the Tyranny of the Minority.

There is an intolerance of diversity of views. National is comfortable that some MPs did and did not support same sex marriage. Likewise National is comfortable some MPs are economically interventionist and some are small state market libeals. However in Labour if you don’t support Fabian type economic policies and socially liberal policies then you are told you are in the wrong party.

Claire Trevett also writes:

Whether it is truth or simply perception is irrelevant: Jones was seen as the last bastion of the centre ground for Labour as well as providing an important buffer from the view that the party was more obsessed with identity politics and political correctness than everyday grafters.

He was certainly the one who articulated it best.

The party now has to work out how to at least hold those voters and shed the perception it is lurching ever leftwards without Jones.

And wait until the gender quotas come into play and all the top candidates on Labour’s list are women, because they have to do so under Labour’s new rules to ensure equality of outcome.

MP Kris Faafoi said despite the perception Jones was on his own in the centre, others were there as well. “Many think economically he was on the right track as well. I don’t think it’s a sin to have opinions like Jonesy’s in the party at all. I guess it’s our job now to fill that void. We need to, because we need that centre ground.” He had hoped Jones would be “in the trenches with us” for the campaign.

The trouble is that the reality is that in almost every policy area, Labour’s policies have moved to the left and are now closer to the Greens than they are to say what Clark and Cullen did.

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Trevett on MPs and summer

December 26th, 2013 at 11:33 am by David Farrar

Claire Trevett writes:

After a year of travels, both domestic and international, Mana leader Hone Harawira also decided to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors, the great explorers, and set up an expedition of his own: the goal being to find out where his office in Parliament actually is.

Heh.

Labour MP Shane Jones will finally give up his favourite pastime of riling up those in his own party by shredding the internal organs of the Green Party and singing paeans to mining, casinos and big business. He will instead be elected as leader of the political party that is his true turangawaewae: Act.

Shane would be an excellent Leader of ACT!

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Trevett’s political awards

December 12th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett hands out some political awards for 2013:

Oscar Wilde award for best insult

But the best single insult goes to Finance Minister Bill English, who, after revelations Cunliffe’s CV was a tad glossier than reality, observed that it was “a living document” – “like the Treaty, but without the principles”.

Heh.

The Boy George Karma Chameleon Award

David Cunliffe, for singing the songs of solidarity to the unions, only to go outside and add the fine print for the benefit of a wider audience: “If economic conditions allow.”

Yeah, Nah.

Don Brash walking the plank award for missed photo opportunities

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy for his attempt to get the Prime Minister to hold a live electric fence in Chile.

I missed that.

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Trevett’s Labour Leadership Awards

September 12th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Some amusing awards from Claire Trevett:

The Artful Dodger award for picking pockets: 
David Cunliffe. Grant Robertson announced the living wage – five minutes later Cunliffe did too. Shane Jones announced Pasifika TV – five minutes later Cunliffe did too. Robertson made a joke about boy bands. It was Cunliffe’s by the next day. Shane Jones announced regional development measures including a rail link to Marsden Pt. The next day, Cunliffe announced a package suspiciously similar.

Is there any pledge DC hasn’t matched?

The John Banks award for greatest transmogrification: 
David Cunliffe for his leap from the business-friendly face of Labour to waving a bunch of “socialist red” roses around and singing paeans from the Workers’ Songbook.

John Wayne award for straight shooting: 
Grant Robertson for bluntly pointing out Shane Jones could not win, however successful he was in the polls. Shane Jones for saying of the Greens: “I am going to harvest and find my votes in Middle Earth – not flat earth. …

Merry Wives of Windsor award for playing hard to get: 
Andrew Little, Raymond Huo, David Parker. Each camp has tried to claim them, but they have continued to refuse to say whom they are backing.

Woody Allen Zelig award for best human chameleon: 
David Cunliffe. In 2011, he morphed into a character from bro’Town to fit into the audience at the flea markets. The sequel came at the Whangarei hustings meeting when he tried out his Maori styles, complete with the use of “eh” to end sentences.

Joni Mitchell award for best rendition of Both Sides Now: 
Su’a William Sio for signing Shane Jones’ nomination form, but supporting David Cunliffe.

Son of a Preacher Man award for best evangelical performance: 
David Cunliffe, who is the son of a preacher man, for his campaign launch and his vibrato a la Martin Luther King “this little town” soliloquy at Blackball. In fact, for his entire campaign.

I understand Martin Luther Cunliffe is now the term used by his opponents to deride him!

Where’s Wally? pantomime award: 
Robertson, for telling Seven Sharp his partner Alf was too busy to be at the pub for the interview just before the camera caught Alf at another table. He’s behind you, Grant!

I suspect that episode may come back to haunt Grant, unless he is claiming that Alf was there without his knowledge!

Shane Jones award for out Jones-ing Jonesy: 
Patrick Gower, 3News: “It’s gonna be Cunliffe’s butchery in the caucus room next Tuesday if he gets the job.”

The blood bath may not be immediate, but could be awesome.

Hellers’ award for biggest pork barrel: 
All three.

Which makes taxpayers the loser no matter who wins!

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An apt summary

September 6th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald reports:

Cunliffe has had a dramatic, but possibly short-lived, transformation into a middle-class Che Guevara. He has decried the dirty freemarket, the crony capitalists, and the neo-liberal agenda and promised world domination to the unions and jobs and lucre for all. 

This leadership contest is like Christmas and Easter rolled into one for the unions. Anything they ask for, they receive. National’s changes abolished – done. A living wage for all – done. Part 6A extended to all industries – done. National Awards back from the 1970s – done.

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Trevett on Twitter

July 18th, 2013 at 12:47 pm by David Farrar

An amusing article by Claire Trevett on MPs and Twitter:

Justice Minister Judith Collins is the biggest surprise in this regard. While many MPs delegate tweetery to their staff, Collins runs her own with a steel fist. And with what unbridled glee does she deploy that fist. She alternates between Agony Aunt and Iron Lady, dispensing kindly advice to some, but getting others with a swift upper cut.

So an exchange with Clare Curran over Family Court reforms somehow ended up being a critique of Green co-leader Metiria Turei and her jacket, both of which Collins decreed were “vile, wrong and ugly”.

She revelled in Labour’s man ban, telling Trevor Mallard she could see why Labour wanted a man-ban “if you’re anything to go by”. She reserves her best patronising tones for Chris Hipkins: after finding out he was calling her “Cruella” she replied “Chris is a dear boy. Probably stayed up all night thinking of that one.”

Superb response.

MPs on Twitter play to a relatively small audience. It is mainly beltway or enthusiasts of politics, rather than undecided voters who might be swayed by the persuasiveness of an MP’s tweeting skills. It can be useful for making announcements though – one of the more astonishing moments in recent times was last week when Labour MPs turned to Twitter to reject reported rumours that a coup was under way. Grant Robertson, Annette King and Chris Hipkins led the charge, getting their message out but also turning it from a virtual non-story to a story about their vigorous denials on Twitter.

The predominant motivation for those MPs, therefore, is pure fun. When the Speaker calls order on the interjections, the MPs simply turn to Twitter where there is no Speaker to rain on their parade. Should some earnest person try to intervene, they can simply be taken out of the game by being blocked to shut them up. There are no whips on Twitter, no Speakers. An honourable mention also goes to a former MP who may be an actual MP again in the future, Labour’s Kelvin Davis, @NgatiBird. His recent contributions include this on the Pakeha Party: “they want what Maori have. Excellent. They are welcome to our 16 per cent unemployment rate, lower life expectancy, and gout.”

And Claire wants Shane Jones on Twitter:

The MP who most people want to join Twitter is Labour’s Shane Jones, the master of the backhanded compliment. His recent insults include this, about the Green Party’s Ikaroa-Rawhiti candidate Marama Davidson: “Marama is a younger, somewhat smarter, version of Metiria.” It is a perfectly formed tweet, but in this case was said during an interview with yours truly, who never found an opportunity to use it. …

The only people who do not want Shane Jones to join Twitter are the Labour Party communications staff, who quiver in fear at the very thought.

A shame.

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If polls were roads

June 28th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald writes:

If polling tracks were Roads of National Significance, then National is in a people-mover on the Waikato Expressway, occasionally zooming up and down gentle inclines but confronting little that has yet forced it to alter its speed.

Labour, meanwhile, is clinging to a battered rickshaw rattling along pothole-ridden, precipitous back roads hoping like hell to hit a flat stretch. Alongside are the outriders of the Greens and NZ First, trying to pop the rickshaw’s tyres so they can purloin its passengers for themselves.

Heh, that is  a great analogy.

 

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Trevett on Sir Douglas

June 7th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald writes:

When Prime Minister John Key was asked about the Tuhoe settlement this week, he referred first to Sir Douglas and his critical role in the Treaty settlement process in the 1990s. In the very next question, he had to answer questions about whether Sir Douglas should lose the knighthood he earned for that work as a result of his conviction as a director of the failed Lombard Finance.

His answer to the first question was an indication of how reluctant Key must be to take that step. There are many things to take into account. Although Sir Douglas and his co-directors were convicted for failing to disclose relevant information in Lombard’s statements, the court emphasised that there was no apparent deliberate dishonesty or attempt to profit from it. Thanks to subsequent law changes, now the same issue would be dealt with as a civil case.

I wasn’t aware of that.

Stripping honours for reasons other than traditional crimes, such as sexual offences or murder, or the sanction by a professional body is a relatively new phenomenon sparked by the global financial crisis. The United Kingdom is now going through the process of exacting revenge on those who contributed to that crisis. Bank of Scotland head Fred Goodwin was the first to be stripped of his knighthood. Last month, James Crosby, former head of HBOS, asked for his knighthood to be removed. The Forfeiture Committee is scanning through others to decide whether to take similar action. But even those at the heart of the banking crisis are only having their honours stripped if the honour was relevant to their banking work.

A key point.

Sir Douglas’ knighthood was for his work as a minister of the Crown, most notably on Treaty settlements. His knighthood was for the work he did for New Zealand as a whole. It was as much an acknowledgment of the iwi he worked with as himself. It was Sir Douglas’ careful handling of those initial settlements that gave other iwi the trust to start along the road themselves, a legacy from which Chris Finlayson is now reaping the benefits.

Because it was handled well from the beginning, the settlement process is now one of the most important developments in New Zealand’s growth as a nation.

The risk is that the still-raw anger over the collapse of finance companies will prompt Key, or Sir Douglas himself, into making a decision on political grounds.

On balance, the good Sir Douglas did for New Zealand and its people by far outweighs the wrong he did to those investors.

And he is paying the price for those wrongs – a criminal conviction, and a sentence of home detention and community work.

The trouble is that the wrongdoing and images of Sir Douglas standing in the dock are fresher in people’s minds. The good, and the image of Maori packing out the public gallery and singing a waiata in tribute to Sir Douglas’ work at his valedictory, has become hazy through the passage of time. Tuhoe was a timely reminder of that good.

Sir Douglas managed to resist caving in on politically unpopular issues in favour of doing what was right when he was Treaty Minister. Key should now do him the favour of doing the same.

A hard decision for the PM.

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Armstong’s 10 reasons why National remains so high in the polls

March 23rd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

An interesting article by John Armstrong on why he thinks National was at 49% in their last poll. A summary of his 10 reasons is:

  1. Key’s sky-high rating as most preferred Prime Minister
  2.  Key’s moderate conservatism
  3. Key is unashamedly pragmatic
  4. Neutralising of troublesome issues rather than allowing them to linger and fester
  5. A majority of voters view National as the better manager of the economy
  6. Good at maintaining momentum
  7. National is still largely defining what the arguments are about in most policy areas
  8. Opposition parties are instead still devoting considerable time and effort to fighting battles they have lost
  9. Public getting acclimatised to the rather chaotic nature of minority government
  10. Few, if any, issues that are seriously divisive and on which National finds itself stranded on the wrong side of the argument for ideological reasons

I would also add on that the alternative looks chaotic and unconvincing.

In another article, three Herald staffers look at Key’s personal popularity. First Armstrong again:

Why is John Key still riding high in the polls? Put it down to several factors. First, an understanding of and empathy with the New Zealand character and what is acceptable and not acceptable. His moderate conservatism is straight out of Sir Keith Holyoake’s textbook.

Key’s second priceless asset is his finely-honed political instinct in which he has the sense to trust – even when receiving advice to the contrary. Few leaders who have spent six years in the job would have their feet still firmly planted on the ground. He is never aloof. Nor arrogant. He does not talk down to people. He can laugh at himself. …

Key’s affable nature is not a false front to be worn solely for public consumption.

Claire Trevett touches on that last point:

His show of a good-natured, even-tempered, self-deprecating personality is one of his most potent weapons. It makes him seem approachable, and that helps explain why his personal ranking is so high above his party’s popularity. It also blurs the fact that he is wealthier and more powerful than most voters. If his Government is having a hard time, the next time he gives a speech he’ll get in a self-mocking joke about it, a tactic that simultaneously acknowledges the headache it is causing him while getting across the message that it is not as major an issue as is being made out. …

His sense of humour is his most underestimated asset. Voters get bored of leaders – it is one of the most corrosive factors on their popularity. Only tyrants and comedians can slow the process of that boredom. Labour cannot abide it, and that alone shows how powerful Key’s persona is.

While Liam Dann says:

As the Bill Clinton campaign slogan said: it’s the economy, stupid.

People vote with their pockets even when they are complaining about myriad other issues.

And I don’t think voters think the economy will do better with a Labour-Green-NZ First-Mana Government.

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Trevett on the tape

October 18th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald writes:

When Shearer first revealed on 3 News last week that his sources within GCSB reported that Key had made a comment about Dotcom in the staff room after a February briefing, and there was possibly a video of it, a little thrill ran up the spines of onlookers.

It was the type of thrill that precedes a monumental shift in the parliamentary landscape.

Alas, poor Shearer. When he pulled the trigger, all that came out was a little cartoon-style flag with “bang” on it.

A bit like Wile E Coyote!

Lesson 2: If the gun is unloaded, send out a deputy rather than the sheriff. Now, rather than having some unfortunate lesser caucus mortal come unstuck, it is Shearer’s barrel that has twisted dangerously and is pointing back at him while Key gleefully tamps in the gunpowder.

Shearer’s predecessor, Phil Goff, left that lonely place known as the leadership with Key’s taunts of “show me the money” echoing in his ears – the salute to that moment in the 2011 election when the PM truly asserted his dominance and from which Goff never recovered.

There is a rising suspicion that “show me the tape” will be the equivalent for Shearer.

It is unusual that with no proof at all, the Leader was the one making the wild allegations. Normally that is what your Mallards and Hodgsons have been for.

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Augury v haruspicy

August 16th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett reports at NZ Herald:

Labour MP David Cunliffe returned from a five-week trip around Europe like some new-age Arnold Schwarzenegger, fizzing at the bung with his dimpled chin as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

The freshly shaved chin set MPs humming the Jaws theme music under their breath.

Cunliffe had grown the beard last summer after losing the leadership contest to David Shearer.

It came to be viewed as a portent – Prime Minister John Key was among the augurs who studied the beard’s progress as intently as the ancient Romans inspected bird entrails, before he intoned, Confucius-like, that Shearer should beware if Cunliffe came at him with naked chin.

I always enjoy references to roman traditions, but being pedantic feel obliged to point out that augury has been confused with haruspicy.

Augurs do not look at the entrails of birds, but pronounce divine meaning from flights of birds. A haruspex inspects the entrails of sacrificed animals to divine the will of the gods.

Now who knew that before this post? :-)

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All about Hone

November 14th, 2009 at 5:31 pm by David Farrar

First an interview with Michelle Hewitson. I think the interview is in fact very perceptive, and worth a read.

I asked her son if only his mother was allowed to keep her shoes on. “Pretty much.” How does that work? “She can pretty much go wherever she likes.” …

Because of that surprising show of nerves – it’s not a question you ordinarily think to ask of a Harawira – I asked whether anything frightened him.

“I guess … not really. I don’t think so.” Except his mother? “Ha, ha. Yeah, I guess. She always will, I suppose. She’s my mum.”

All of the above tells you what you need to know about being raised Harawira. You can do what you want and you don’t have to take your shoes off. It’s one definition of being a rebel.

And Claire Trevett:

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira yesterday defended himself against the call for him to resign and took a thinly veiled swipe at the party’s leadership, claiming the wider party was being “dictated to” by a few individuals.

This has the potential to get very messy, especially as the MPs seem to now be communicating through the media with each other, not directly.

And Audrey Young:

Maori Party president Whatarangi Winiata’s bombshell in asking MP Hone Harawira to resign will throw it the party into unprecedented turmoil.

But Winiata and co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples knew that when the request was put to Harawira at a hui in Kaitaia on Thursday.

The fact that they are willing to accept the internal grief, and possibly a permanent rift with the north, shows how strongly they feel about him going.

It has been a decision reached more in sorrow than anger. And it is more an act of self-preservation than of punishment.

If it has been this difficult, they’ve done well to keep things so tight for so long.

The Maori Party represents a broad church of views, from left to conservative. It is not Harawira’s radicalism per se that is the problem but the way he expresses his views in a polarising way.

And can a leopard change his spots?

It was clear from the press conference Turia and Sharples held at Parliament yesterday that their tolerance for Harawira is an at end. The possibility of his remaining a colleague seems remote at this stage.

There can be no mistaking the message: Harawira is not a team-player and is not suited to the disciplines of a political party. The hope is that he recognises that himself.

But Harawiras don’t do humiliation, and the default position would have to be on his fighting expulsion – which in itself could be damaging to the party.

It is a battle the party’s leaders calculated is worth risking.

I hope there is a way forward, because there are some big issues to be resolved such as the Foreshore & Seabed Act, and schisms within the Maori Party will make it harder to find a solution.

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Trevett on Tolley

November 4th, 2009 at 7:39 am by David Farrar

In their third feature in a series, Claire Trevett rates Anne Tolley’s first year in the job:

Anne Tolley was reportedly given the job of National’s education spokeswoman because of her reputation as the party’s whip of having an iron hand in a velvet glove.

Party leaders John Key and Bill English believed her tough approach would serve her well against the infamously lippy and powerful teacher unions.

Personally I would recommend deploying 245-T against the teacher unions :-)

Her decision to target adult night courses as one area for cuts is understandable and should have been easier to “sell” – deeper cuts to education for young people would be even more unpalatable.

But it attracted far more opprobrium than it should have. It drew a petition with more than 50,000 signatures, and National sources say backbench electorate MPs were besieged to such an extent that a caucus revolt was narrowly averted.

She underestimated the public reaction to it and erred in understating the impact by saying it would affect only “hobby” courses such as Moroccan cooking and belly dancing.

My view remains that the true scandal is that we were subsidising so many of these courses at all. I think National could have been ore aggressive on this issue, and painted Labour’s defence of them as a case of being out of touch.

Labour MPs have gained a grudging respect for other ministers they initially targeted, such as Paula Bennett. They remain disparaging about Mrs Tolley. Former education minister Trevor Mallard is now the Opposition’s education spokesman.

Although he can be merciless, his attacks have made little impact as yet partly because he is distracted by his other duties.

If he put the unremitting focus on education that Bill English did when he was made education spokesman after being ousted as National’s leader in 2003, Mallard could make mincemeat of Tolley.

There is a difference. Mallard’s attacks on Tolley are quite personal. English’s blitz on Education was focused on standards and outcomes.

As it is, Mrs Tolley is showing signs of improvement. Until recently, she was reluctant to return media calls on even uncontroversial matters. This was astonishing for a front bench minister in charge of such a fundamental portfolio.

I find if you don’t call the media back, it rarely helps you.

National’s current policy does not propose any major reforms of the types that invoked widespread outrage in the 1990s. But Mrs Tolley is struggling against the unions to bring in even those smaller scale changes for which it has a broad public mandate.

My biggest criticism in Education is of the policy, not the Minister. I think wider ranging reforms are needed. I want performance pay, standard funding etc.

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Herald on Govt’s first year

October 31st, 2009 at 9:12 am by David Farrar

This weekend it is the Herald’s turn to do a big feature on the Government’s first year in office. Multiple article to quote.

John Armstrong starts with what I think is the most important aspect:

The first Herald-DigiPoll survey since last year’s election shows close to 80 per cent of respondents rated the Government’s performance in dealing with the effect of the global recession on New Zealand as good, very good or excellent.

Barely 20 per cent rated the Government’s response to the recession as not good or poor.

And this is the major issue voters have focused on. Not use of urgency, not the Super City, not RWC broadcasting, not any of the numerous beltway issues. Not to say handling of those issues is not worthy of focus, but they are not critical to the average voter.

In another article, Armstrong reviews Key himself:

Key’s sheer ordinariness has fooled opponents into making first impression assumptions that there is little substance behind the confident, smiley face he presents to the world.

Key would not claim to be an intellectual. But he is very bright. Those who have worked closely with him speak of a capacity to absorb mountains of information and a laser-like capacity to focus on what needs to be done.

I would almost call Key a data sponge. He loves soaking up information from numerous sources, and reflecting on it. He is constantly thinking, and analysing.

He is anything but ordinary. The chief executive of New Zealand Incorporated is nothing short of a political phenomenon.

As one Beehive operative of long experience puts it, Key is rewriting the rules of New Zealand politics. That is a sweeping statement. But it goes some way to explaining why public support for National – confirmed in today’s Herald-DigiPoll survey – has climbed to unprecedented highs for a ruling party in its first year of government and, just as crucially, continues to remain at that level.

The challenge for the Government is to build its own brand to complement Key’s strong brand.

Key cites his Government’s fulfillment of manifesto commitments and steering the country through and (he hopes) out of economic recession as crucial in consolidating support for his party. Cabinet ministers readily acknowledge, however, that National’s post-election dream run is overwhelmingly down to Key’s strong rapport with voters – especially females who shunned National in the past.

It is rare for a centre-right party to do well with female voters.

Labour Party insiders grudgingly agree, but with a subtle twist in the language: National’s popularity rests on Key’s popularity. When the latter starts to fade, the former will quickly evaporate.

As I said above, I agree with them that the popularity is largely Key. But that may change over time, as other Ministers become better known. Also the other Ministers have generally been doing quite well in their portfolios – what is lacking is more a coherent all of Government brand.

Or so Labour prays. Labour, however, has made a bad habit of underestimating Key.

And they still are.

One of the principal ways he is seen to be rewriting the rules is by applying a “will it work” test to policy proposals rather than first asking whether they sit comfortably with National Party ideology. Key’s willingness to search for ideas outside conventional boundaries is in tune with an electorate less hung-up about ideology than in the 1980s and 1990s.

Key has centre-right values and instincts, but he sees them as a guide not a straitjacket.

This may irk some colleagues who see the vast gap between National and Labour in the polls as a rare chance for National to adopt a more radical and right-leaning prescription. …

Key seems to have no difficulty with either proposition. However, he is extremely wary of breaching National’s 2008 manifesto. He believes it is vital that voters feel confident they can trust National in government.

I’m one of those who want to see the Government be more bold, and indeed use that vast poll gap while we have it. But it isn’t about being more “right”, it is about fighting battles that are important to our future such as tax reform, the union stranglehold in education, state sector reform etc. But I agree any reform has to be consistent with the election manifesto. But there are plenty of areas where initiatives were not ruled in or out.

Dunne also noted that “references to what happened in the 1990s, let alone what side one was on during the Springbok Tour or, heaven forbid, the Vietnam War are utterly irrelevant to the values of this new generation, as Helen Clark found out dramatically last year, and Phil Goff is continuing to find out”.

The battles of yesterday.

Though Goff is an effective communicator, Key operates on another level. Unlike some politicians, he never talks down to people. He instead likes to disarm his audiences – no matter how big or small – by kicking off proceedings with a witty anecdote. More often than not, the joke is at his own expense. And deliberately so. The self-deprecation helps to break the ice.

A typical example was a recent meeting with youngsters at a riding school. Praising their ambition to represent New Zealand in show-jumping at the 2016 Olympics. Key turned to their proud parents, telling them “and you’ll be able to watch it all on Maori television”.

Heh. More seriously I recommend anyone who has not seen Key do a Q&A, should attend one of his meetings. He really engages with the audience, and as John A says, never talking down.

Yet, a year on from the election, it is still difficult to discern the direction in which the Government is going. Presumably it knows, because it is a very busy Government. It would be useful if it told the rest of us.

If Key has a major flaw, it is in not drawing the big picture often enough.

I agree. I don’t think it has mattered much this year, for it has been a crisis year – fighting the recession. But as that fades as an issue, people are going to want to hear more about closing (or at least slowing) the gao with Australia.

Key’s power is at its zenith. But how does he intend to use it? What legacy does he want to leave? The next 12 months will be true measure of his prime ministership, judged on what is done to get his promised “step change”in New Zealand’s economic growth.

I think the 2010 budget is very important, even more so that the 2011 budget.

Claire Trevett reports 78% of NZers back the series of cycleways.

Patrick Gower talks to Rodney Hide about working with John Key.

John Armstrong also reviews Bill English.

Claire Trevett talks to Tariana Turia:

Do you still have that level of trust in National?

Yes. What I’ve enjoyed the most is our ability to be upfront with one another and be straightforward on issues. I have never found that they’ve said one thing to me in a meeting and done another.

I recall what John Tamihere said about how Cullen used to treat coalition partners!

Have there been difficult choices?

When you can see value in what is being proposed but there’s always downsides to it. We’ve had to think really carefully about ACC, the Emissions Trading Scheme, and adult education courses.

For example with the ETS, it’s been difficult to try to balance the interests of iwi – whose major focus is forestry, fishing and farming – when on the other hand we’ve got really poor communities who are going to have to pay and they’re not the ones causing the problems.

There are very few policies that don’t involve balancing the trade-offs.

Jon Johannsson talks leadership:

I believe we are watching an unusual prime ministership take shape. Key’s skillset is vastly different from what we’ve seen before. We’d possibly have to go all the way back to the entrepreneurial Julius Vogel in the 1870s to find an apt comparison. Vogel put in vital and much-needed infrastructure to connect New Zealanders with each other and then with the rest of the world. Vogel’s legacy is a hugely significant one in our politics. If Key could affect a 21st century equivalent – meaning nothing short of major structural transformation to better position New Zealand during its transition to an information-age economy – his future legacy would be assured.

And Key has pushed hard on infrastructure. But the structural transformation is not there – however stuff like the fibre to the home initiative may be part of that.

Key has also grasped that our politics is going through a non-ideological phase, which explains why much of the criticism of his Government’s performance has come from ideologues on either side of the spectrum. His acceptance of much of Labour’s policy inheritance reinforces this judgment. Keeping its promises, which National has largely done, thereby establishing long-term trust with the electorate, has given Key the prerequisite platform needed for greater freedom of action in the future.

Absolutely. You have to earn trust, to then have greater freedom of action.

But to return to where I began, Key’s larger context; his political vision has been quite parsimonious in my view. There is no overarching narrative that tells us where Key intends taking us or what policy mix will best maximise our future progress and choices.

Transforming education (surely the best incubator for our future economic prosperity), leading our democracy (think: the electoral referendum, the Treaty, republicanism), and how to best protect water, our most valuable strategic resource, are being managed, not led, in an entirely ad-hoc fashion.

I think this is fair criticism.

Finally John Roughan:

The most impressive member of the Cabinet is a complete newcomer, Steven Joyce.

He is doing the infrastructure projects, notably the duplicate broadband network, as well as those in his primary portfolio, transport.

He’s done the little things, like the car cellphone ban on which the previous government dithered for years, and the big things like the Waterview connection, which I thought was wrong but he put me right.

I remarked to the Dominion Post for their review that I thought John Key’s best decision was probably appointing Steven Joyce to such critical portfolios. The fibre rollout was Key’s signature initiative, and speeding up infrastructure investment also a iconic issue for Key. And Steven indeed is no ditherer.

Of course I still think he is wrong on the cellphone ban!

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Trevett’s Sharples Diaries

October 9th, 2009 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Claire Trevett reveals the diary this week of Pita Sharples:

Whooo-eee – it’s not all flags and mana enhancements in here today, I tell you. I forgot to tell John Key that my ministry was giving Maori TV $3 million to help it get the rights to the Rugby World Cup. All the teko has hit the kowhiuwhiu (fan) now! He’s nearly as angry as he was when I “announced” the government would sign the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I sent a staffer to gauge his mood at his weekly press conference. Apparently his eyes were as hard as unpolished pounamu. …

Labour Party MPs and Rodney Hide are kicking it in the guts now. Shane Jones reckons it’s a World Cup for Emissions Trading contra scheme. He thinks the money would be better used helping young Maori. Trevor Mallard thinks it should be used for junkets for people in New Zealand to go to the United Kingdom now and encourage them to come to New Zealand in 2011. I can see what Tau means about him now.

I remember Chris Carter pulled the old “they’re picking on me cos I’m gay” line about his travel costs and decide to try a similar tactic.

Then I remember it didn’t work out so well for him, so I sent out the press release under Te Ururoa’s name accusing everyone of being racist.

Chris rings me to applaud my tactics – he agrees it’s nothing to do with spending millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money and everything to do with institutionalised stereotypes. …

Luckily, Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia has come up with a new spin to help me out. It will be good for obesity because all those people who can’t get Maori TV won’t be sitting on their sofas watching rugby for weeks on end. The National Party’s communications team vetoes the press release – they say it belongs in the Melissa Lee Motorway Crime Prevention Theory file.

Very good.

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The unauthenticated Budget week diaries of John Key and Bill English

May 28th, 2009 at 8:17 am by David Farrar

Claire Trevett takes the piss, even so slightly.

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Trevett on Maori Party

April 4th, 2009 at 10:10 am by David Farrar

Claire Trevett looks as the Ministerial delegations for the Maori Party:

The announcement of the delegated responsibilities was barely noticed at the time. But for the Maori Party, it delivered the mana it was waiting for.

The full list of delegations is here. There hasn’t been a great deal of analysis of it, to date.

The list is extensive and, critically, delivers distinct areas of responsibility and funding in social policy that affect the lives of Maori people.

Among them, Tariana Turia has taken on responsibility for Maori and Pacific employment as well as the Government’s overall strategy on family violence.

In health, her focus includes provider development. But wider responsibilities include sexual health, diabetes, tobacco, communicable diseases and breast and cervical screening.

Pita Sharples is expected to find ways to address Maori over-representation in crime, as well as more effective rehabilitation of Maori offenders. In an area dear to his heart, he gets responsibilities for Maori education such as kohanga reo and kura kaupapa.

In some ways these areas are more significant than their main ministerial portfolios of Maori Affairs for Pita Sharples and the Community and Voluntary sector for Tariana Turia.

Indeed.

The challenge for the Maori Party is to deliver in areas it has long accused others of failing in.

The expectation they must perform in these areas is crystal clear. To Mrs Turia falls the task not only of “addressing” family violence but of “reducing the impact” of it.

Mr Key puts a premium on performance – and his support parties are not exempt.

He will also expect Maori ministers to toe the same line of accountability for how public money is spent, and Mrs Turia has already begun the process of measuring the effectiveness of each dollar.

By giving the Maori Party exactly what was asked for, Mr Key has put his faith in them to deliver on it.

The column is a very good read abotu some of the challenges ahead.

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Trevett on Question Time

December 17th, 2008 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Claire Trevett has a good article on question time yesterday:

Both sides went into the House primed for action – an Opposition ready to put the new National Government through the wringer and a Government eager to show what it was really made of.

Instead, those who had become so adept at answering questions over the previous nine years suddenly found they had little idea how to ask them. Those now responsible for answering them seemed to be under the misapprehension that the people in Opposition were still running the show.

It was very funny.

Three times Mr Carter stood up to ask the initial question and muffed it by adding extraneous words. He did no better on his follow-up questions, which fell foul of the rules because they did not begin with words such as how, why or when. Eventually Dr Cullen stood and used a point of order to give him a lesson on how to begin a question.

“Wassup?” yelled Mr Key – and by the time Mr Carter was done, the howls of laughter drowned Ms Tolley’s answers.

Poor Chris really had  shocker of a day.

Labour whip Darren Hughes showed the game of Gerry-baiting had lost none of its novelty – when Mr Key mentioned “stationary energy” Mr Hughes chipped in “we call that Gerry Brownlee”.

But Claire passed over Simon Power’s slam to Hughes earlier on

9. JOHN BOSCAWEN (ACT) to the Minister of Justice: On what date is the Government planning to repeal the Electoral Finance Act and introduce new electoral law?

Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : As part of its first 100 days’ commitment the Government intends to repeal—

Hon Darren Hughes: Fight them on the beaches.

Hon SIMON POWER: Well, that member should go back to his seat. Oh, that is right, he does not have one.

Ouch.

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The chilling effect

October 31st, 2008 at 9:02 am by David Farrar

Claire Trevett in the NZ Herald has some examples of what the Electoral Commission has called the “chilling effect” of the Electoral Finance Act”

  • Martin Taylor, chief executive of HealthCare Providers, said the lack of clarity meant he had to pull out of running his main election ads.
  • Family First’s Bob McCroskrie faced the same problem and said he was being careful in case ads he did not believe were election advertising were later found to be so. His group had to shelve an initial plan for a pamphlet for every household because the cost was twice that of the $120,000 spending cap.
  • There are no (as third parties) business advocacy groups, no Maori groups, and major lobby groups such as Federated Farmers, Grey Power and the Sensible Sentencing Trust have steered clear of the new regime, opting for more muted campaigns on “issues”.
  • The Cycling Advocates’ Network has a website and email-based campaign, including posters for download urging people to “make your vote a vote for cycling”. Spokesman Stephen McKernon said it would add an authorising statement to its website and change some of its content after the Electoral Commission told him political parties would have to give written approval of claims they were ‘pro-cycling’.
  • The Employers and Manufacturers Association was referred to the police for an advertisement opposing a law change to stop employers giving more pay in their pay packets to non-KiwiSaver members.
  • “In newspapers, there is next to no interest-group advertisements and usually this is their one chance to get their say in. I think it’s an enormously dangerous development.”

Remember if the Labour-NZ First-Green axis gets re-elected, then not only will they retain the Electoral Finance Act – they will make it worse. They will keep all the restrictions on people’s ability to campaign against parties and candidates, but make it much easier for parties to use taxpayer funding to drown out their opponents.

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Herald rates the Maori Party

October 6th, 2008 at 9:30 am by David Farrar

Claire Trevett rates the Maori Party in the Herald:

  • Performance Rating: 7/10
  • Assets and liabilities: co-leaders biggest asset, inexperience of other MPs may be a liability
  • Successes and failures: Has maintained strong discipline, failed to repeal Foreshore & Seabed Act
  • Policies: entrench Maori seats, more Treaty clauses in legislation, no tax on first $25K of income, no GST on food, minimum wage to $15 an hour, company tax lowered to 25% for small businesses
  • Needs to do: Keep explaining explaining why it is keeping options with both major parties open
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Everyone saying Peters will be suspended today

August 29th, 2008 at 7:02 am by David Farrar

The gallery seem united in their view that Helen Clark will suspend or stand down Winston Peters today. She would be silly not to. In fact the SFO investigation has been fortunate timing for her – it lessened some of the focus on her personal lnowledge of the Owen Glenn donation.

Paula Oliver in the Herald says:

The Serious Fraud Office probe into New Zealand First’s finances announced late yesterday makes Winston Peters’ suspension as a minister unavoidable.

Claire Trevett reports that most of the party leaders are calling for Peters to be stood down.

John Armstrong writes:

Facing mounting pressure to deal with Peters to stop his multiplying crises tainting Labour by association, Helen Clark now has the perfect excuse to stand him down from his ministerial portfolios without his having any valid reason to complain.

Tracy Watkins in the Dom Post:

Phone calls between the Clark and Peters camps late yesterday ahead of a meeting today point to mounting pressure on Miss Clark to stand her foreign affairs minister down.

NZ First insiders insisted yesterday there was no prospect of him standing aside voluntarily.

Colin Espiner in the Press:

His position appears virtually untenable after the SFO yesterday started an investigation into claims that donations allegedly solicited by Peters from Sir Robert Jones and Vela family interests did not reach New Zealand First.

I expect it will be announced before midday.

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Trevett previews budget

May 21st, 2008 at 8:37 am by David Farrar

Claire Trevett previews the budget issues:

Yet far from being the party’s salvation, this Budget – with expectations riding almost impossibly high – could well be Dr Cullen’s Waterloo. Dr Cullen has drunk from the cup of parsimony far too many times and Victoria University lecturer Jon Johansson said it had led to “an intractable negative perception” of him.

A political science lecturer, Mr Johansson doesn’t think it will matter which figure Dr Cullen pulls out of his hat tomorrow. “When you talk to people about Cullen there is real intensity and negativity. I think he is Labour’s biggest liability.”

I think this is right. In some ways it is unfair as Cullen is an incredibly competent Minister, he has generally resisted doing anything really harmful (like tinkering with the Reserve Bank Act, GST, Fiscal Responsibility Act), has presided over or benefited from eight years of strong economic growth and introduced some policies which will be long lasting – the Cullen Fund and KiwiSaver.

But his intransigence on personal tax rates has negated all that to a large segment of the public. If he had moved earlier on tax, then he might retire with bipartisan appreciation as having been one of NZ’s best Finance Ministers.

However you can’t run absolutely enormous surpluses year after year and refuse to lower tax rates, especially as inflation and bracket creep push people into paying more tax every year. Even worse you can’t announce tax cuts and then cancel them – even if they were small insignificant ones.

The problem for Dr Cullen now is that tomorrow’s tax cuts look insincere and grudging. I doubt a single person in NZ really thinks Dr Cullen wants to cut taxes as opposed to being forced to cut taxes.

Dr Claire Robinson, a political marketing specialist at Massey University, said Labour did not deliver what voters wanted in Budget ’07, and many had gone to National.

“There’s not much Labour can do in this Budget to lift itself from the doldrums. It will take a miracle to shift those voters back to Labour, and Michael Cullen doesn’t believe it is his role to deliver miracles.”

While Dr Cullen has been downplaying the size of his proposed three-year programme, National this week has been bandying about figures of $50 a week in a bid to ramp up the pressure on Cullen.

Mr Johansson and Dr Robinson said the public will be deaf to anything Labour has to offer or to arguments that National would be fiscally irresponsible to offer more.

I am confident National’s tax cuts will not be at all fiscally irresponsible. Bill English will not be delivering deficits in Government.

The bigger challenge for National will be the impact on inflation. However this can be over-stated, and one way to deal with this is to have a smaller reduction every year than one big reduction in one year. Also many people do understand that higher interest rates are temporary, while a reduction in tax is permament.C

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