Pundits on Labour

October 3rd, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Duncan Garner writes:

I’m going to keep this short and sweet: Labour has fallen apart and it ain’t over yet.

The party is proving to voters why they got just 24.6 percent; it proves they would never have been able to govern. They are tearing themselves apart. They look like narcissists. This is civilian war. This is a fight for control of the party.

Annette King once told me there were no factions in the Labour Party – they were just social groupings, she said. I’m sorry that’s bull-dust. These factions are alive and well and have been since the 1980s. It’s publicly tearing Labour apart and I imagine voters are completely turned off.

It would be very interesting if a media outlet did a poll in the next few weeks.

The ABC club never died when Cunliffe became leader – they just retired to the corner and got more bitter and twisted. It’s no secret who they are: Trevor Mallard is the life president, Clayton Cosgrove, chief plotter, David Shearer, general-secretary, Stuart Nash, head of communications, Annette King, camp mother, Grant Robertson the uncle, Phil Goff, kaumatua, and the errant ABC kids are Jacinda Ardern, Chris Hipkins and Kris Faafoi.

I think you could add the two Dunedin MPs to it as new recruits.

Labour has been heading this way for some time. The powder keg has blown. Cunliffe does not have the support of his caucus. They do not want him; neither do Kiwi voters.

He should have seen all this last week and gone quietly for the good of the party, and the cause, but he has chosen to hit the nuclear option. It is his own personal revenge at the ABCers. It’s breathtakingly arrogant. Which part of election spanking does he not understand?

Labour talks about renewal, but it’s stuck with 1980s politicians pulling the strings. They don’t even look like a viable opposition, let alone a party ready to govern.

 

Just imagine if National had got 2% less and Hone kept his seat, and we had a Labour-Greens-NZ First-Mana Government. It would be chaotic beyond belief.

Patrick Gower writes:

Camp Cunliffe is really hitting the beltway nerve – that Team Robertson can’t be trusted, portraying Mr Robertson as a disloyal deputy who rolled David Shearer.

Although Mr Cunliffe is not prepared to put his name to it.

But that’s not what his press secretary and cousin Simon Cunliffe told 3 News.

In an email he said: “Shearer’s decision to quit followed a caucus numbers push – led by a Robertson follower.”

So Cunliffe’s office actually e-mailed a journalist blaming Shearer’s fall on Robertson.

There is some truth to it though. My understand is that Shearer blames Cunliffe for undermining him, but Robertson for rolling him – hence why he might still stand.

Liam Hehir writes:

You’ve probably heard about this year’s election being Labour’s worst showing in 92 years. In fact, the result was even worse.

In 1922, Labour received 23.7 per cent of all votes cast. This year it received 24.69 per cent of the party vote. However, the latter is not the better of the two.

Ninety-two years ago, New Zealanders voted using first past the post. There was no “party vote” to give a neat measurement of relative party support. The overall voting percentages simply reflect the number of candidate votes counted over all of the then 80 electorates.

In 1922, Labour fielded just 41 candidates, meaning only about half of New Zealanders could vote for a Labour candidate that year.

The seats Labour did not stand in were probably those least favourable to it. Nevertheless, had the party contested every electorate (or were MMP in place back then) we can be fairly sure it would have outperformed its 2014 result.

The same reasoning applies to Labour’s first election three years earlier in 1919. Then it received 24.2 per cent of votes cast despite not standing candidates in a significant number of electorates. Taking this into account, it seems the Labour Party has never had weaker voter appeal than it does today.

A useful analysis. This is a record low.

In 2011, Canada’s Liberals – long the country’s dominant political party – received just 18.91 per cent of the popular vote. Beaten into third place, the party had to relinquish its position as the official opposition. Nevertheless, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, the party has moved back into first place in the polls.

If only Helen Clark had a daughter!

Or what is Roy Lange up to?

And, of course, there was National’s 2002 catastrophe. It is hard to believe that the party now straddling the political centre like the Colossus of Rhodes received just 20.93 per cent of the vote that year. How has it managed to claw back its status as the natural party of government?

First, National eliminated its competition on the Right. Under Don Brash, National gobbled up almost the whole conservative vote, reducing ACT and UnitedFuture to the lifeless husks they are today. NZ First also barely survived this process as about half of its traditionalist voters defected back to National.

While that restored National’s formidability, the 2005 election proved that it wasn’t quite enough to carve out a workable majority. It then fell to the pragmatic and non-ideological John Key to seize back the centre ground. His ability to do this – bringing both conservative and centrist voters with him – has proved essential to his success as a popular leader.

National needed Brash and Key in that order. Brash to consolidate the right vote and then Key to win the centre vote.

John Armstrong also writes:

It is a suggestion likely made in vain. But the time has surely arrived for those with standing and influence in the Labour Party to break their silence and somehow persuade David Cunliffe that his gambit for winning back the party’s leadership is simply not a starter.

I suggested some time ago that the only person who could save Labour from itself is Helen Clark, if she told Cunliffe to withdraw.

The crux of the matter is that if Cunliffe were to win the party-wide ballot, he would not have the confidence of the caucus members ranked second and third, David Parker and Grant Robertson, never mind the remainder of the parliamentary wing.

He has at most 20% to 30% support in caucus.

The Labour Party has become a laughing stock. But the party’s current circumstances are no joke.

The only viable way forward is that whoever becomes leader has to purge the caucus of the other faction. Otherwise it won’t be credible to the public that they can be a unified party which can govern a country.

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Armstrong on gotcha politics

July 29th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

“Gotcha politics” is all about focusing voters’ attention on the gaffes and mistakes of opponents rather than trying to win the election by winning the battle of ideas.

It is personality-based politics, not issue-driven politics. It is all about wrecking your opponents’ campaign by landing major hits on their credibility.

At its worst, gotcha politics can be an old-fashioned witch-hunt dressed up in modern-day notions of accountability. None of this new, of course.

What has changed is the extent and intensity of gotcha politics.

Even the Greens are not immune. Last Friday, that party joined others in stressing its campaign would focus on the issues, rather than the sideshows.

Was this the same Green Party whose co-leader Metiria Turei had spent much of the week demanding a prime ministerial apology for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs blunder regarding the granting of diplomatic immunity to a defence attache at the Malaysian High Commission charged with sexual assault?

No matter that various apologies had already been forthcoming. No matter that the State Sector Act and the Cabinet Manual set clear boundaries to prevent ministers interfering in operational matters – thereby begging the question of exactly what John Key was supposed to be apologising for. No matter that the Greens had politicised the whole affair to the point of jeopardising the prosecution of the Malaysian official.

Points well made. They have played politics fast and loose on this issue.

It is unfair to single out the Greens. Both National and Labour are just as guilty, if not more so. National’s being in Government makes it more likely to be a target of such attacks, however.

One reason “gotcha politics” is becoming more endemic is that Key has neutralised so many issues that Opposition parties are having to resort to personality-based attacks to make any kind of impact.

The other major factor is conflict-driven news media. The seemingly insatiable 24-hours-a-day appetite of internet news sites means quality has to be sacrificed for quantity when it comes to investigations and analysis.

In these circumstances, it is temptingly easier to manufacture the news through the media playing their own version of gotcha politics by trying to catch politicians out.

It seems clear Labour can’t win just by leadership preference or policies, so it is inevitable they will try H-Fee type issues.

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Labour MPs enjoyed Joyce roast of Cunliffe

July 26th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Joyce took the first call in Wednesday afternoon’s general debate — long a platform for Parliament’s better orators — to parody Labour’s under-the-weather David Cunliffe in a fashion that was as clever as it was cruel as it was funny.

Within the space of a five-minute speech, Joyce had revealed another weapon in his armoury — the ability to cut an opponent down by sheer wit — and thereby further enhanced his credentials as the frontrunner for National’s leadership when Key finally moves on.

There was, however, another interesting outcome from his contribution — its impact on those sitting opposite him.

Cunliffe was not in the chamber. But those Labour MPs who were initially tried to ignore what was a virtuoso performance. But their barely suppressed smiles gave the game away.

When the cat is away, the mice will play!

Fortunately for Cunliffe, Labour is also now closer to election day than it was in 1990 when Mike Moore deposed Sir Geoffrey Palmer in a questionable coup which had the sole purpose of saving the party from being completely routed by National.

56 days to go.

Cunliffe’s cause has not been helped by Labour whingeing over TVNZ choosing Mike Hosking — someone Labour sees as biased in National’s favour — to be the moderator for the channel’s debates.

Hosking is a professional. He hardly needs reminding that his performance will be scrutinised intently. Any bias will be blatantly obvious. Which is why there will not be any bias. Labour has every right to object. In doing so, however, the party projects the image of a loser.

If anything I suspect Hosking will go harder on Key, because he has said favourable things about him in the past.

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Armstrong on why he thinks Peters will not run for East Coast Bays

July 24th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

As captivating and entertaining as such a contest would have been, Winston Peters is unlikely to throw himself feline-like into the pigeon loft and stand in Murray McCully’s East Coast Bays seat.

The idea of putting himself up as the New Zealand First candidate initially seemed like a very cunning plan to disrupt the political footsie being played by Colin Craig’s Conservatives and the National Party in order for the former to get a toehold in Parliament and the latter to remain in power.

But the warning bells ought to have been ringing in the New Zealand First camp after Christine Rankin, the Conservative Party’s chief executive, urged Peters to “bring it on”.

It would give the Conservatives a lot of publicity, and allow them to position Craig as the natural successor to Peters.

Peters is not in the business of giving rivals who are after the same votes as him the means to raise their profile. When it comes to winning the seat, Peters is (for once) handicapped by his refusal to reveal his post-election intentions. East Coast Bays is one of National’s safest seats. Around two-thirds of both the electorate vote and party vote in the seat went to National in 2011.

Peters would need a big chunk of the National vote to shift his way. But why would National voters back him and risk seeing him install a Labour-led government?

All Craig would need to say is “Vote Peters. Get Labour”. 

Yeah I can’t see East Coast Bays voters voting for Peters if it means he may make David Cunliffe Prime Minister, and support a Labour-Green-Mana Government.

Also Peters hates losing electorate contests. He has never got over being beaten by Clarkson and then Bridges. Losing to Craig would be an unendurable burden for him.

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Armstrong on McCully

July 11th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Murray McCully will not be resigning from the Cabinet over his ministry’s inept handling of the alleged sex attack involving a staff member at the Malaysian High Commission.

He is under no constitutional obligation to do so. He is under no substantial political pressure (as yet) to do so. He has done nothing that is politically shady or morally dubious which would give his opponents the grounds for demanding that he does so.

Even if the foreign minister did offer his resignation, it is most unlikely that John Key would accept it. In short, it is going to take much more than the victim in the alleged attack calling on him to step down for that to actually happen.

Interesting that the politician who has said the most insensitive things about the case is Hone Harawira for saying it is all a fuss about bugger all. Yet no one is calling on him to resign – just Murray McCully, who is actually the MP who ended up getting Malaysia to agree to extradite the alleged attacker.

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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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Armstrong on Oravida

April 23rd, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

The Prime Minister took the rather unusual step of offering free advice to Labour yesterday. It was advice Labour would do well to heed. But it is unlikely to do so. At least not yet.

The gist of John Key’s message to Labour went something like this. “Make my day. In fact, make my election day. If you want to continue to rate below 30 per cent in the polls, just keep talking about the things that do not matter. Just keep doing that until election day.”

Among the things that do not matter – according to Key – is Labour’s pursuit of Judith Collins and who she did or did not have dinner with in Beijing six months ago and what she did or did not tell New Zealand’s ambassador afterwards.

Key is right. There is a massive disconnect between the Wellington Beltway and the rest of the country as to whether Collins had a serious conflict of interest in her dealings with milk exporting company Oravida during her trip to China last October, given her husband is a director of the firm.

While Labour tries to variously tease and bludgeon more information out of the Justice Minister, the rest of the country could really not care less and – in Key’s view – voters are much more exercised with the more fundamental questions of how the respective parties’ policies are going to affect their community in terms of education, health, law and order, and so forth.

And when they do release a significant policy, they make basic tactical stuff ups such as releasing their policy the day before Easter so it disappears without trace.

 

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Reaction to Jones quitting

April 23rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Shane Jones’ shock decision to quit as a Labour MP will lead voters to draw one conclusion and one conclusion only: that he thinks Labour cannot win the September general election.

His departure is close to an unmitigated disaster for Labour. For starters, unlike the bulk of his colleagues, Jones could reach into segments of the vote – especially blue-collar males – who have switched off Labour. He was in the process of switching those traditional relationships back on.

So why did he go?

He was a major weapon in helping Labour to win back more of the Maori seats.

Perhaps of most significance, Labour has lost the one man who would have acted as the essential go-between in securing Winston Peters’ signature on a post-election coalition or co-operation agreement between Labour and New Zealand First which enabled Labour to govern.

Jones, however, may have seen himself ending up as a paralysed economic development minister in a Labour-Greens coalition which saw him having to constantly battle on behalf of any project with environmental repercussions.

Jones at best would have been the symbolic Minister with Russel  Norman having the veto.

He might not have intended it, but his leaving is also a massive blow to Labour’s morale at one of the worst possible times – just five months before election day when the party is endeavouring to motivate its membership to go door-knocking to get out the Labour vote.

The question is, why not stay until  the election?

Vernon Small writes:

 Disarray. There is no other word to describe the mess the Labour Party plunged into last night.

Not only did it have to come to terms with the loss of one of its strongest performers in Shane Jones, the party seemed to freeze like a possum in the headlights.

Press secretaries were either unable to help, unhelpful or offline, and party president Moira Coatsworth and secretary Tim Barnett initially went to ground.

Former leader David Shearer was gracious enough to confirm he knew of the resignation, but other MPs said it was a “bolt from the blue” and “gutting” before a gagging order went around the caucus.

Poor old Matt is earning his money!

If anything was designed to scream “crisis” it was this. Jones will be a serious loss to the party.

He has strong blue collar crossover appeal to Pakeha and Maori, and in the regions.

Who will now be leader of Labour’s Maori caucus? Nanaia Mahuta?

There is an upside in Labour getting Kelvin Davis back, who many people (including myself) rate. However he does not have the profile, mana or connections that Jones did.

In a Herald story:

Dover Samuels, a former MP and close friend to Mr Jones, said the Labour Party should take some of the blame for failing to keep him.

“He always pointed out to the Labour Party that if you didn’t take middle New Zealand with you you will be in the Siberian ring of the Opposition for the rest of your life. And I think, sadly, they didn’t hear that. They’ve got their own agendas.” 

Labour’s lurch to the left has claimed another victim.

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More on Dotcom

March 29th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Kim Dotcom has paid back about $400,000 of up to $900,000 he owes to creditors — but one sees the late payment as a public relations ploy.

Which it is. He could have paid them years ago.

Paul Davis supplied uniforms to the staff at the Dotcom mansion and is one of the creditors who spoke publicly to the Herald last month. He was owed $1138 and said yesterday he was paid as promised.

“But I don’t think it’s his conscience. We had absolutely no movement on this for two years until the Herald story and the TV stations following up. It was pressure which was needed, so I think he’s desperately trying to get some good PR.”

He certainly needs some.

Millions of dollars of assets were seized in raids and Mr Dotcom did not have a legal obligation to pay the debts of the limited liability company.

But creditors became more frustrated in recent months as Mr Dotcom started a high-profile marketing campaign for his Good Times album, took helicopter trips to the Rhythm and Vines music festival and a weekend at Huka Lodge and started the campaign for his Internet Party.

A lack of funds was also cited in the departure of Wayne Tempero, Mr Dotcom’s longtime bodyguard, who was being paid half of what he was getting before the raid.

Mr Dotcom has since obtained an injunction to stop Mr Tempero giving a tell-all interview, and four security guards who worked for the tycoon are also believed to be about to file proceedings in the High Court to seek backpay.

That will be interesting, as they claim they were effectively paid under the minimum wage. This court case could happen at the same time as the Mana Party does a deal with them, which will tell us a lot about how deeply Mana cares for low wage workers.

Fran O’Sullivan writes:

Kim Dotcom bought his New Zealand residency with a $10 million cheque; now he wants to buy off Hone Harawira to try to secure the balance of power at the September election.

Hone’s price is much cheaper.

Nor the fact that Dotcom owns a signed copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. So what? Mere ownership doesn’t make him a Nazi sympathiser. (I own a Chinese tract signed by the disgraced Bo Xilia and that doesn’t make me a Communist either).

This issue will remain a red herring unless evidence is made public — not merely hinted at — that Dotcom is a closet Nazi and anti-Semitic to boot.

It’s the combination of the book, the flag, the helmet and the testimony from his former friend.

What Dotcom is offering is a gift. Money and resources for a shared tilt at power.

The big question is whether Harawira sticks to the principles on which he founded the Mana Party, or sells out to Dotcom in a naked dirty deal to get more seats in Parliament.

Of course he will sell out.

John Armstrong also writes:

To help the left remove John Key, the internet mogul has to attract voters that are beyond the reach of Labour and the Greens. Indeed, the best chance for the Internet Party to establish itself as a viable political force and (eventually) get anywhere near the 5 per cent threshold is to position itself in the centre of the political spectrum or slightly to the right, just like New Zealand First, but targeting a much younger catchment of voters.

Instead they’ll mainly take votes of the Greens I’d say.

That he is willing to contemplate a vote-sharing deal with Hone Harawira’s Mana Party is tacit admission that Dotcom knows he will not beat the threshold in September’s ballot. But taking advantage of Harawira’s hold on a threshold-removing electorate seat comes at what may be a heavy, even crippling price.

Harawira made it a precondition of further talks on such a deal that Dotcom commit himself to not working with Key and National post-election.

The immediate impact of that is to drastically cut any leverage — and thus appeal — that the Internet Party might have had if it had taken the same position as New Zealand First and hedged its bets on whether it would back a Labour-led or National-led Government .

Can you imagine a Labour-Green-NZ First-Mana-Dotcom Government!

Even more dangerous in political terms is the suspicion — quickly fuelled by National — that Dotcom’s purpose in setting up the Internet Party is solely to make it a bottom-line of any post-election talks that whoever is Minister of Justice quash any court ruling which would force his extradition. Such a bottom-line would be preposterous and would amount to Dotcom’s party being the sickest joke played on New Zealand voters.

I believe that is the of course the major intent of the party.

Every day that Dotcom deprives Key’s other opponents of the oxygen of media coverage is one day closer to election day on September 20. It is one day less for the real election issues and priorities to take centre stage.

National’s opponents can complain all they like. But the never ending Dotcom saga is a freak show of epic proportions with ever more twists and turns. The media simply finds it impossible to avert its eyes.

Yep, he is starving them of oxygen.

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Armstrong on Cunliffe

February 22nd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in NZ Herald:

The Labour Party is guaranteed one thing in the countdown to this year’s general election: there is no danger of David Cunliffe peaking too soon.

Indeed, if the three-year electoral cycle is likened to a three-lap middle-distance track race at the Olympics, then most of the other parties are currently jostling for room on the back straight before rounding the final bend for the sprint to the finish.

Meanwhile, Cunliffe-led Labour is still at the starting blocks, slowly taking off its dark-red tracksuit and planning nothing more taxing than an afternoon stroll.

Harsh. Not entirely false.

The opinion polls since have offered little succour. The party’s rating at just under 32 per cent in the latest Fairfax survey, which indicated National might be able to rule alone, is said to have had a chilling impact on the Labour caucus.

The continuing high levels of support for National are making a nonsense of the two absolutely essential tasks required of Cunliffe.

First, he has to build a mood for a change of Government when there is no sign of any such feeling abroad in the wider New Zealand electorate.

Second, Cunliffe has to persuade voters that Labour is the party that must be given a strong mandate to carry out change.

That would normally call for fresh ideas to excite voters. The problem for Labour is that the voters do not want to be excited and are happy with what is dubbed the “progressive conservatism” that is the hallmark of John Key.

As it is, Cunliffe has precious little to show from his five months in the job. A peaceful Labour Party conference and a comprehensive byelection victory in a safe Labour seat do not really count for much.

And the problems:

There is also a lack of urgency, which is failing to provide the momentum to keep Labour in the headlines for the right reasons – rather than trying to ping John Key for living in a “leafy suburb” when you do likewise.

Cunliffe has also been unlucky in losing his office chief of staff – an absolutely pivotal position.

Much speculation on who will take that job. It’s rare to have a vacancy in that role so close to an election.

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Armstrong on Jones

February 15th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

The applause from his colleagues ought to be long and loud when Shane Jones arrives for Labour’s weekly caucus meeting on Tuesday. This week was Labour’s by a country mile thanks to Jones’ carefully conceived, astutely timed and precisely targeted blitzkrieg-style offensive on Countdown, the Australian-owned supermarket chain.

In the space of just a few minutes in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, Jones made an extremely serious allegation regarding Countdown’s business practices. In doing so, he also entrenched Labour as the White Knight on the frontline of the Supermarket Wars.

It’s all about repositioning Labour more firmly in voters’ minds as the consumer’s friend who will confront big business greed rather than being a corporate lap-dog like National.

It’s about ensuring the economic debate at this year’s election concentrates on prices, wages, income inequality and child poverty – not economic growth forecasts, Budget surpluses and debt repayment where National has a huge advantage.

Yep a very good week for Shane Jones. It may backfire if he has over-egged the problem, but from what I have heard it does seem that there is some fire behind the smoke.

In fact, it could have been the perfect week for Labour had David Cunliffe not wasted an opportunity to nail the Greens to the wall, thereby making it very clear to the public who is going to be the boss in any Labour-Greens coalition Government.

Norman’s musings aloud on the Greens’ stance on Dotcom’s fight against extradition was a major gaffe. The Greens seem to believe that the wide discretion the law gives to the Minister of Justice amounts to carte blanche for the minister to pick and and choose who goes and who stays.

That discretion in the law is obviously there to deal with any anomalies or unforeseen circumstances.

Norman’s mistake was to talk about blocking Dotcom’s extradition if given the chance, while in almost the same breath referring to Dotcom not going ahead with the launch of his Internet Party which would have dragged votes off the Greens and other left-leaning parties.

Norman might argue he was talking about two very different things. But it was inevitable Key would link them and declare the Greens, who have attacked National’s electoral accommodations with minor parties, were about to strike a far more dodgy one of their own.

It is unwise to declare publicly you would try and veto extradition of someone, at the same time as you’re trying to negotiate an agreement for him to support your party, instead of setting up his own one.

So a good week for Jones, and not a good one for Cunliffe.

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Kim’s little helpers

February 13th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Has been fascinating to look at the nexus between certain MPs and Kim Dotcom. We now know some MPs have had multiple meetings with him at his mansion (lesser mortals visit MPs in their offices, but for Dotcom they flock to his mansion), and the same MPs have asked multiple questions about his case in Parliament. And again at least one of those MPs is vowing to fight his extradition – even if the NZ Courts find he should be extradited. And finally, we have learnt that Dotcom will wind up his political party during the election campaign and endorse one or more other parties – no doubt those who have been helping him so much.

So who have been Kim’s little helpers. I’ve searched the parliamentary database and these MPs have asked multiple questions on his behalf or about his case.

  • Trevor Mallard – 132 questions (128 written, 4 oral)
  • Winston Peters – 82 questions (71 written, 11 oral)
  • David Shearer – 36 questions (22 written, 14 oral)
  • Grant Robertson – 17 questions (15 oral, 2 written)
  • Russel Norman – 13 questions (7 written, 6 oral)

We know that Mallard has met with Dotcom, Peters has been to his mansion three times and Norman at least twice. Norman can’t recall whose idea the meetings were.

Audrey Young has written on how Peters is back to his Owen Glenn tricks and refusing to answer questions about his taxpayer funded trips to talk to Dotcom. Many a wag has suggested he should wave the NO sign up when asked if Dotcom has donated to his party or him.

John Armstrong also writes on the issue:

It is bad enough that the Greens are naive enough to sign up to the fan club which accords Kim Dotcom the folk hero status he clearly craves, but scarcely deserves as some modern-day Robin Hood of cyberspace.

Much worse, however, is that it now turns out that party is blithely willing to play politics with New Zealand’s courts, the country’s extradition laws and its extradition treaty with the United States.

Were John Key to allow some right-wing businessman facing extradition to stay in New Zealand in exchange for him abandoning his plans to establish a political party which might drain votes off National, then the Greens would be climbing on their high horses at break-neck speed and leading the charge in slamming the Prime Minister in no uncertain terms. And rightly so.

Indeed.

By appearing to countenance such a massive conflict of interest through political interference in Dotcom’s potential ejection from New Zealand, Norman has instantly disqualified his party from having any ministerial posts in a coalition with Labour which involve responsibility for the extradition process.

In fact, Norman has probably disqualified his party from having any role in the Justice portfolio full stop.

That’s a win for New Zealand!

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Armstrong on Cunliffe and Key

January 30th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

John Key was looking forward to a good old-fashioned stoush in Parliament yesterday. He did not get one. A new year and Labour is experimenting with a new tactic to spike the Prime Minister’s potent verbal guns. That tactic is to simply ignore him when he holds the floor for any length of time.

Heh, they’ve given up!

When it comes to one-upmanship, Key performs best when he is feeding off Opposition insults. He thrives on interruptions and the challenge of winging it with devastating put-downs of his adversaries. Usually being on the end of all that, Labour well knows it.

This is like Labour in the 1970s when Kirk instructed his MPs not to try and engage with Muldoon in the House!

Depriving Key of a crucial audience took some of the sting out of his mixture of barbs and pre-rehearsed jokes at Labour’s expense. Labour could not claim a victory. But the party probably denied Key being able to claim one either.

This was underlined when Cunliffe got to his feet. He is normally an impressive orator in a Parliament sadly short of such creatures.

But not yesterday. His relentlessly negative diatribe on Key’s and National’s perceived faults was too over the top to ring true and failed to answer one pertinent question. If things are going as badly wrong in New Zealand as Cunliffe claims, why are Key and National still so popular?

“You can do better than that, David,” interjected National’s Tau Henare at one point. The backbencher’s critique was one with which it was difficult to quibble.

Not a good start of the year for Labour.

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Why drugs and column writing do not mix

January 25th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong has written a column where he speculates National would agree to Winston Peters becoming Prime Minister, after the election.

John is normally one of NZ’s best political analysts and writers.

I can only conclude that when he wrote this, his colleagues slipped him some synthetic cannabis as an experiment in what happens if you write columns while stoned.

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Armstrong on good year end for National

December 21st, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong at NZ Herald writes:

National’s opponents have long worked on the assumption that John Key’s Government – like all Administrations – will inevitably be ground down and worn out by the failings which destroy all Governments ultimately – namely the accumulation of mistakes, embarrassments, duplicity, expedience, arrogance and (the real killer) the feeling that from the Prime Minister down the Administration is no longer listening.

Things reach a tipping point where a clear majority of voters deem a Government has reached its use-by date. At that point it is as good as being all over. There is no way back.

Labour and its allies have seen their task as one of hastening that decline and ultimate fall. Because Key is the embodiment of National’s ongoing success, Labour has devoted considerable effort to pinning the blame on him when things go wrong or look dodgy.

In order to ping Key, Labour has become far too consumed by the minutiae of day-to-day political conflict which largely passes most people by.

Unfortunately for Labour, the Prime Minister – assisted by poll data – has an instinctive and almost always accurate ability to diagnose what is really unnerving voters amid which issues he must tackle and those he can safely afford to ignore.

Labour need to pick one or two issues that really matter to people and relentlessly push those issues. Instead they run around after the headline of the day.

It means ensuring that in their portfolio work, Cabinet ministers are almost always on the side of majority public opinion.

Be it the number of non-urgent operations carried out by hospitals, the crime rate, prodding welfare beneficiaries back to work or building new roads to unclog Auckland’s traffic – things which really do matter to people – Key and National devote considerable attention, effort and resources to getting it right.

As long as National continues to focus on such fundamentals, all the huffing and puffing provoked by matters like Key’s handling of legislation covering the security agencies pale into relative insignificance as far as many voters are concerned.

Such things are treated as the flotsam and jetsam of political life.

Key has been helped by David Cunliffe seeking to reassert Labour’s dominance of the centre-left since taking over his party’s leadership.

Labour seems to be doing well at picking votes up off the Greens. Less so, off National.

In his speeches, Cunliffe likes to say a Labour Government he leads will not be afraid to use the powers of the state to intervene where a market fails. Well, someone else got there first.

His name is John Key. His sacrifice of his party’s ideology to cut a deal with Twentieth-Century Fox to ensure the further Avatar movies are filmed in New Zealand illustrated Key’s willingness to undercut Labour and leave that party punching at air.

The following day’s fiscal update also offered Labour little to complain about given its rosy growth forecasts and confirmation National remained on track for Budget surplus by mid-2015 – something which will give National huge cachet with voters.

The clincher came on Thursday. The Treasury’s growth forecasts have frequently turned out to be little more than mirages. Not so the latest official gross domestic product figures which had economic growth hitting a giddy 3.5 per cent in the September year.

Strong economic growth and a return to surplus will make an excellent base for re-election.

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Armstrong on handling of Fonterra fiasco

August 7th, 2013 at 6:46 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes at NZ Herald:

Unlike its management of some ongoing and by comparison trivial matters of state – such as the accessing of Peter Dunne’s emails – the Government’s handling of the Fonterra infant formula contamination scare is difficult to fault … so far.

That assessment may yet change when the various official inquiries start examining the regulatory role of the Ministry of Primary Industries in the dairy industry.

For now, however, John Key, Tim Groser, Steven Joyce and other Cabinet ministers have provided a textbook example of how to handle a crisis. Their competence has been further highlighted by Fonterra’s gaffes and atrocious public relations.

The Government immediately realised the gravity of the situation, identifying the priorities for action and showing no compunction about exercising what in other circumstances might be deemed heavy-handed intervention.

When even Labour is saying they have no criticism of the Government’s actions to date, you know they have handled it pretty well. Considering how many portfolios and Ministers are involved – food safety, primary industries, health, trade etc, that is no mean feat. The biggest challenge is often just making sure it is clear who is in charge, what needs to be done, who is doing it, and everyone speaks consistently.

When election day rolls around in November next year, National’s ability to win enough seats to stay in power will hinge on voters’ impressions of how it has handled the things that matter to the average punter – things like preserving our dairy export markets. Not Dunne’s emails.

I don’t think one wants to politicise things at this stage, but it is a fair point that (in my opinion) on the really big stuff like responding to the Global Financial Crisis, the Pike River tragedy, the Christchurch earthquakes and now this – the Government performs as the public expect and want them to – one reasons why almost five years on, National still polls just below 50%.

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All about the man ban

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

Lots of commentary on Labour’s proposed man ban.

Colin Epsiner writes at Stuff:

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Bennett at NZ Herald reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fran O’Sullivan supports it though:

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

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

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

John Armstrong writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernard Orsman ‏@BernardOrsman

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

James Macbeth Dann ‏@edmuzik

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

Perfect Mike Hosking ‏@MikePerfectHosk

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

Patrick Gower ‏@patrickgowernz

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

Michael Laws ‏@LawsMichael

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

Philip Matthews ‏@secondzeit

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

Julian Light ‏@julianlight

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

Aunty Haurangi ‏@_surlymermaid

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

Keeping Stock ‏@Inventory2

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

Ben Uffindell ‏@BenUffindell

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

Cactus Kate ‏@CactusKate2

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

Finally we have Chris Trotter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The conference in November should be spectacular!

 

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John and Fran on John

June 29th, 2013 at 3:10 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

National’s decision – very much John Key’s decision – to bite the bullet and set a 2020 start for building the $2.9 billion Auckland City Rail Link is a political masterstroke.

Once again. Key has trumped National’s opponents and neutralised the political advantage they had held by jumping across the political divide and setting up camp in their territory.

He first did it with nuclear ship visits when he became National’s leader in 2006. He simply used his honeymoon in the job to declare the anti-nuclear law would remain intact under his leadership. And that was that. It may not have greatly impressed the Americans. But in an instant, a political millstone had been removed from National’s neck.

On numerous occasions since, Key has likewise swallowed hard and taken positions which do not sit that comfortably with National ideology but which spike the guns of the party’s enemies and leave them with nowhere to go.

Regardless of the merits of the City Rail Link (and I actually think it does have merits), one can look at this in a very calculating way.

The Government has said it will fund it by 2020. It is unlikely this Government will actually be in power in 2020, so the actual funding for it will be an issue for the future. The announcement though gives certainity.

If they had not announced future funding for it, well what is the probability that there will not be a change of Government before 2020? Very very low. Even Labour can’t get stuffing up for that long. And if a change of Government means it would then be getting built anyway, well what is the point in holding out?

But there are other advantages. By agreeing to it now, it removes the ability of Labour and Greens to sabotage the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway extension which they were promising to scrap to fund the CRL. Are they now going to keep campaigning on scraping what they call the holiday highway? I doubt it.

So yes, a masterstroke – and one that doesn’t really impact the books long-term as it was inevitable it would be built anyway when there was a change of Government. Instead, it now happens on a more affordable time-frame.

With yesterday’s confirmation of a tunnel as the second harbour crossing plus sundry motorway extensions and developments, Key has mapped out National’s vision for Auckland transport and, perhaps more importantly, laid out the stages by which that vision will be achieved.

In one swoop, he has taken the steam out of what, after housing affordability, is the thorniest issue in the country’s biggest city – traffic congestion – and one on which, according to opinion polls, National’s management has less than impressed the public.

In particular, Key has now marginalised Labour and the Greens in the one aspect of public policy where those parties thought they safely had it all over National – public transport.

Armstrong also points out:

Apart from shoring up National’s support in Auckland, the go-ahead is intended to remind the rest of New Zealand that National – unlike its opponents – looks at the big picture and gets things done whereas they are consumed by the relatively trivial, such as the fate of Peter Dunne and his parliamentary allowances.

And their obsession with the GCSB. Don’t get me wrong – the GCSB is of importance, but it seems the opposition have talked about nothing else for the last few weeks or months. The average family really does not care that much about the GCSB. They care about having a job, a growing economy, better schools and better healthcare.

Fran O’Sullivan also writes:

John Key’s lip-smacking munificence has been writ large as he moves into agenda-setting mode in Auckland and Christchurch, the two cities that will decide next year’s election.

Key’s spreading plenty of pixie dust about, promising multi-billion-dollar transport projects in Auckland – including the City Rail Link which his transport ministers have seriously dissed – and big-ticket projects in earthquake-savaged Christchurch, like a new convention centre.

I joked on Twitter that John Key has spent more in one week than Rob Muldoon spent in nine years on Think Big!

But the comparison, even joking, is unfair. The transport projects are not (generally) being funded by taxpayers. They tend to get funded out of the national land transport fund which is basically user pays funding through petrol tax and road user charges.

Labour’s Auckland issues spokesman, Phil Twyford, was yesterday reduced to carping about the cost of the city’s transport projects and complaining that the timing for some of the construction was still vague.

Which they are, but they allow the planning to begin such as route protection for the harbour crossing.

But he later confined himself to telling journalists it could come from various sources, including (take that, Labour!) the Future Investment Fund, into which his Government is tucking the proceeds of its partial privatisation programme; the Land Transport Fund, which holds the proceeds of petrol excise tax and road-user charges; taxpayers through the Consolidated Fund and even the private sector through some nifty public/private sector partnerships (PPPs).

I think using the proceeds of asset sales to help fund the CRL would be wonderful! Labour then has to argue that shares in a power company are more valuable than the CRL!

And Christchurch mayoral challenger and Labour MP Lianne Dalziel was reduced to complaining from the sidelines as Key and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee cosied up publicly with Parker to announce agreement had been reached on $4.8 billion of investment in Christchurch – $2.9 billion of it coming from the Crown and $1.9 billion committed by the Christchurch City Council – so that projects like the new stadium and a convention centre can proceed.

Key couldn’t resist having a flick at Labour during yesterday’s stand-up, telling reporters he could understand why the public wasn’t warming to Labour because it was “too negative”.

Labour need to learn that endless negativity is not appealing.

The big question is how much further the PM will drive the knife in; particularly as speculation has now been sewn that Labour leader David Shearer has been given two months to turn his party’s dismal poll showing around or face questions over his leadership.

The parallels with Australian Labor leader Julia Gillard are obvious. Their respective publics warmed to neither of them.

The posturing was obvious at the US Embassy’s Independence Day festivities (celebrated early) in Wellington on Wednesday night.

Shearer and two potential leadership pretenders – Grant Robertson and David Cunliffe – maintained a studious distance from each other.

Tick tock, tick tock …

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“We’re going to be doing exactly what we are doing now”

June 26th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

In response to the 6% drop in the Herald Digipoll, David Shearer has said:

‘We’re going to be doing exactly what we are doing now,”

This response was greeted with huge cheers from all National MPs. They hope Labour will carry on doing exactly what they are doing.

He fended off questions about what it would take for him to step down as leader.

Shearer can’t stand down. There is too much of a risk that David Cunliffe would win the battle to be his successor. This is as anathema to the ABC old guard faction as Kevin Rudd is to the ALP Caucus. It doesn’t mean they won’t stomach it eventually, but they are not desperate enough yet.

John Armstrong says that time has come:

Is it time for Labour to rethink the unthinkable and think David Cunliffe? Probably not. At least not yet. Labour’s MPs would not be human, however, if they were not asking themselves – if not each other – the Cunliffe question after the latest Herald-DigiPoll survey. …

The poll is a horror story of Stephen King proportions for Labour. The party has dropped close to six percentage points since the last such survey in March to register just under 31 per cent support.

David Shearer’s rating as preferred Prime Minister has been slashed by a third and is back into “also ran” territory.

The survey uncannily resembles the result of the last election, leaving the observer to draw the obvious conclusion – that Labour has gone nowhere since.

Except David Shearer was quoted as saying that the long-term trend has been positive for Labour. So I graphed the results of the Herald Digipoll since the election.

heralddigipolls

 

If that is a positive trend for Labour, it’s an unusual one.

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Armstrong on Greens

June 10th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong woke at the weekend:

Norman appeared to offer further evidence of that later in the week when he rounded on the chairman of the Electricity Authority, Brent Layton.

National Party-aligned bloggers were not the only people asking in the wake of that attack who was being Muldoonist now.

Norman’s curt response to Layton’s detailed critique of the joint Labour-Greens plan to reform the wholesale electricity market was pretty tame stuff, especially when placed alongside Winston Peters’ slow evisceration of Peter Dunne.

However, Norman’s attack struck a discordant note coming as it did only days after the Greens’ co-leader had accused John Key of vilifying and bullying his critics in a manner which was as divisive as that of the late Sir Robert Muldoon.

Norman’s rejection of Layton’s 28-page paper, which sought to demolish the Labour-Greens’ notion of setting up a single institution to set wholesale electricity prices, was also in marked contrast to the rebuttal by Labour’s David Parker. The latter challenged Layton’s arguments one by one in a measured tone.

That was the point. Parker showed how to disagree on policy grounds. Norman made it personal, and nasty. Becoming a habit.

Norman’s statement was far more belligerent with a number of references to Layton as a “National Party appointee” to a “National Party-created” regulator.

Layton is no National Party hack, however. He is a highly-respected economist with extensive knowledge and experience of the electricity generating industry over many years.

Indeed Dr Layton is a highly respected economist. He was the director of the non-profit NZIER economics co-operative for five years. Dr Norman’s PhD was on the history of the Alliance Party. Dr Layton’s was on economic history.

I doubt there is an economist in NZ who has done more work in the electricity sector. Dr Layton looks to have done 20 or so reports in the 2000s, for the Major Electricity Users Group (the ones who benefit the most from reliable supply, cheaper prices and better competition).

Fran O’Sullivan also writes:

Russel Norman exposed himself as a “Muldoonist” when he slammed into highly respected economist Brent Layton this week for daring to raise his head above the parapet and defend the work of the NZ Electricity Authority, which he chairs.

Norman was clearly incensed that Layton had issued a paper on the economics of electricity that laid waste to the arguments of three critics of the current regime, and challenged the proposal by the Greens and Labour to set up a new entity – NZ Power – to effectively control prices.

But by slagging Layton off as “nothing more than a National Party-appointed civil servant who has failed to do his job and is now trying to protect his patch”, Norman was straying well into the territory of personal attacks that Sir Robert Muldoon made an art form, and demonstrating a predisposition to a form of political management the Greens co-leader claims to despise.

Long may Russel keep it up. Once a brand is damaged, it is very hard to repair it.

And there would be few people in the Wellington political firmament who would have missed the underlying message sent by the NZ Institute of Economic Research when it issued a short-form CV yesterday under the simple headline: Background: Dr Brent Layton.

The release simply noted the many roles Layton has held: chairman of the electricity market rules committee, a director of Transpower and M-Co, former chairman of Trust Bank Canterbury, a director of the Futures Exchange, deputy chairman of the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, chairman of Lyttelton Port Company, chairman of Canterbury Health and also AgResearch and its commercial arm Celentis. Currently, He chairs Sastek, a Brisbane-based hardware manufacturing and software development company. And he has also been one of two external monetary policy advisers to the Governor of the Reserve Bank.

In other words: frame that up against a PhD on the Alliance and a working life spent mainly in Parliament? There is no real comparison.

One can disagree with Layton’s analysis and conclusions. But to label him as basically a failed hack was unworthy.

 

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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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Armstrong on Carter

March 15th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Taking over as Parliament’s Speaker after Lockwood Smith’s departure for the High Commissioner’s job in London was never going to be easy, no matter whom the Prime Minister hand-picked for the role. …

David Carter, Smith’s replacement, knows his initial months in the job will be judged by how close his management of the House follows the Smith doctrine.

Carter, however, has made it clear that when it comes to improving ministerial accountability, it will be done his way – not Smith’s.

The latter’s tougher stance on ministers’ answers benefited the Opposition. Labour then proceeded to push the boundaries, complaining that just about any reply did not properly answer the question.

Carter has his own solution – to embarrass the minister answering the question by immediately telling the Opposition MP to put the same question again. And again if need be.

This may not seem much of a sanction, but it makes the answering of a question to the Speaker’s satisfaction something of a test of competence. …

The other noticeable change under Carter’s regime is to allow more latitude for interjections and barracking from all sides of the House – an acknowledgment that the chamber is the principal venue for the display of political passion.

Carter also deserves credit for keeping one of Smith’s time-saving innovations – blocking MPs from trying to table documents to make a political point when those papers are freely available elsewhere.

It is still far too early to say how Carter’s tenure will end up rating the in the long list of Speakerships. As far as the Opposition is concerned, the jury is still out.

What is clear is that Carter will apply the same approach he has employed throughout his political career – to quietly and slowly build respect among both political friend and foe for handling things in a commonsense, unfussy, and unspectacular manner.

I haven’t watched question time much in the last month. How do people think Carter is going as Speaker?

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Armstrong on Greens housing policy

February 7th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

It is much easier to pass a verdict on the Greens’ new “rent-to-buy” housing package. It is really a huge state house building programme in drag.

Under the policy, low-income families would occupy new, government-built $300,000 homes without having to stump up a deposit or take out a mortgage. The families would instead be required to make a $200 weekly payment to the Government to cover the interest cost on the Crown capital used to build the house. The occupiers would have the option of making additional payments to buy equity in their home.

The Greens won’t say how many such houses they want to build. They say the scheme would complement Labour’s plan, and the Greens’ share of those 100,000 homes would be decided during coalition negotiations.

The policy is easy to comprehend. Its generosity makes it extremely attractive. It seems to make sense.

Wrong. It is a dog of a policy. It should be put out of its misery.

The slow repayment of capital by occupiers under the Greens’ scheme would require the Government to go on a continual borrowing binge. There would be huge problems of fairness in terms of cut-off points for eligibility.

There is no incentive or requirement to pay off capital. Occupiers would have the house for life and enjoy cheap rent at $200 a week. It is not clear whether that payment would increase and by how much when interest rates increased – as they inevitably will. It is not clear who would pay the rates and the general maintenance costs.

Labour’s scheme at least imposes discipline on buyers to maintain the value of their properties by requiring them to take out a mortgage.

The Greens’ policy should carry a health warning. It flashes “unintended consequences” in neon – consequences that would probably have to be picked up by the taxpayer.

Labour has officially welcomed the Greens’ contribution to the affordable housing debate. Instead, it should quarantine this Nightmare on Struggle Street before it taints its own policy by association.

Labour and Greens seem to be competing with who can come up with the biggest bribe, and hope no one notices that the massive borrowing needed by the taxpayer will plunge our credit rating down the gurgler.

Surely what we need is less borrowing, at a time when Governments around the world are crumbling under the burden of their debt.

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Armstrong on Smith

February 1st, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

So exits Lockwood Smith as Parliament’s Speaker. And to genuine and sustained applause from MPs from all parties.

Except Winston whose speech yesterday was churlish. Winston goes from having the Speaker being the guy who beat him for a safe seat nomination in 1984, to the guy whom he unsuccessfully tried to sue for defamation. He holds a grudge.

Once the House was under way, there could often be too much referee’s whistle rather than him allowing the two main parties to engage in no-holds-barred debate. He was noticeably reluctant to grant applications for snap debates – one of the few means available to Opposition parties to hold Governments to account. He was subject to potential no confidence motions from Opposition parties.

Yet no other Speaker has done more to help the Opposition and uphold Parliament’s role of ensuring Cabinet ministers are accountable for what happens in their portfolios. His insistence that a minister address the actual question being posed by an Opposition MP rescued Parliament from fast-approaching irrelevance.

He has indeed, and the precedents he has established will carry on beyond him.

Carter is an avuncular figure who enjoys respect around Parliament for the quiet, modest and unfussy way he has gone about doing a good job in his ministerial portfolios. He will do a good job as Speaker even though he might not have wanted the job. But Smith will be a hard act to follow.

Indeed.

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Ruthless

January 23rd, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

John Key’s dramatic Cabinet reshuffle displays a streak of ruthlessness hitherto rarely seen in a New Zealand prime minister.

Ruthless is a very good word for it. I’m trying to recall the last time there was a reshuffle of this nature, and I can’t recall one. As I said yesterday generally Ministers are gently eased out at election time, or in the year before an election – allowing it to be arranged as a retirement. Or they are pushed out due to a major scandal or incompetence. To just dump two Ministers because you needed to rejuvenate the team, is a cold political call. It is however very much the correct one.

Above all, what the reshuffle does is put the entire Cabinet on notice.

Indeed. I suspect most Ministers also thought it would be a very minor reshuffle with Nick Smith just replacing David Carter. As news spread yesterday of two Ministers forced out, a cold sweat would have broken out with some of their colleagues thinking “That could have been me”. They will also be thinking “That could be me next time”. This is not a bad thing. Complacency is not a good thing in politics. No one should be thinking they have a eight or even expectation to remain a Minister for an entire Government. Renewal is crucial.

Tracy Watkins also calls it ruthless:

No-one saw the brutal dumping of long-time Cabinet ministers Kate Wilkinson and Phil Heatley coming – least of all them.

The usual route out of Cabinet for underperforming ministers is a slow slide down the rankings and reassignment to lesser portfolios.

But Prime Minister John Key, a man once known as banking’s smiling assassin, refused to offer them even that fig leaf, giving them just a few hours’ notice of their fate.

The smiling assassin. It’s nothing personal. It’s just necessary.

By launching 2013 in such dramatic fashion, Mr Key has signalled his intention to draw a line under those failures and regain the political initiative.

I think it shows significant determination that 2013 will not be like 2012. It also puts the acid on David Shearer’s reshuffle. It is widely acknowledged his front bench is not performing. Will he just move one or two people around or do a very significant reshuffle?

The Herald editorial approves:

With the Government holding up well in the polls, it would have been tempting for the Prime Minister to keep the changes in his forced Cabinet reshuffle to a minimum. Why, after all, change a winning formula? But in acting as boldly as he did yesterday, John Key has actually enhanced the prospects of prolonging his ministry. The Government has freshened its face at an appropriate time, rather than waiting until closer to next year’s general election, when such a shake-up would risk being seen as a mark of desperation.

I agree. Also it gives new Ministers a chance to score some runs on the board. If you become a Minister in the year before an election, it is hard to achieve much as election year is often so polarised.

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