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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Pundits on Labour

November 24th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Duncan Garner, Fran O’Sullivan and John Amrstrong all write on Labour this weekend.

First Duncan:

Dissent. Uprisings. Rebellion. Scraps. Blood.

It was something Helen Clark kept a careful lid on. 

Not even on her weakest day or in a moment of madness would Clark have given up control of who picks the leader of the proud Labour Party – never, ever.

Caucus must control its own destiny.

What happened last Saturday would never have happened under Clark’s strong leadership. Now the Labour leader can get rolled and rolled easily.

If a minority of 13 other MPs out of 34 decide to support Grant Robertson or David Cunliffe next February, then that triggers a party wide vote.

Actually I think it is even worse than that. I have not seen the final rule, but I don’t think a contender even needs to challenge. The vote is basically just a confidence vote in the Leader. Someone could just quietly encourage 14 MPs to vote no, and bang there is a leadership ballot – and only then do contenders have t step forward.

During that vote, party members get a 40 percent say and unions get a 20 percent say. You reckon they’ll hang on to David Shearer in that scenario? Doubt it. And it’s like that every three years.

If Shearer lost the Feb caucus vote, I don’t think he would even contest the party wide ballot. He’d be impotent in Parliament while he has to fight a rearguard action to stay on as Leader. I think he would bow out.

The February following each election, Labour will be able to boot out their sitting leader – that leader may have just months earlier been crowned Prime Minister.

So when you vote for Labour, you don’t know who you will end up with as PM.

It’s a recipe for instability. Quite frankly it’s a disaster, a train-wreck waiting to happen. …

If the 40 percent caucus vote and 40 percent party member vote cancels each other out – i.e the caucus wants a change but the party members don’t, then guess who has the casting vote?

The unions. They get 20 percent.

Could the unions select the next Prime Minister? Yes. Could they dump a sitting Prime Minister just two or three months after they took office?Yes.

By this move, Labour have become even more subservient to the unions.

And now Fran O’Sullivan:

Four days on from Cunliffe’s execution, there is little sign that Shearer is on top of his game.

His post-caucus press conference was a bumbling, mumbling mess which at times bordered on total incoherency.

It was a shocker.

It does not bode well for Labour to have its own leader so frightened of his own shadow that he has to banish one of his few competent colleagues to the back bench.

Unfortunately, Shearer was also simply not politically tough enough, nor sufficiently competent and astute, to have pulled off the accommodation that Australian Liberal Leader Tony Abbott made with potential rival Malcolm Turnbull this week to position his party to win the next Australian federal election.

I blogged on this yesterday. A much smarter way to handle a more popular rival.

In Shearer’s case he does not have the skill to bring off an accommodation with Cunliffe. (Though in months to come he may wish he had gone down that path instead of listening to the caucus players who want the New Lynn MP buried at all costs).

The old guard remain in charge.

And John Armstrong pulls no punches:

Barmy, loopy, stupid, crazy. Last weekend’s Labour Party conference had so much political madness on and off the conference floor that the proceedings could well have been deemed certifiable.

The handful of MPs who tried to talk sense into delegates may agree – particularly on the vexed question of how high to set the bar before a leadership ballot involving the whole party membership is triggered.

The MPs’ advice was not only ignored, they were shouted down. The rank-and-file saw things very differently. The rewrite of the party’s constitution was giving them a rare whiff of grass-roots democracy. They were not about to say “no thanks” even if their votes were being manipulated for nefarious reasons.

All I’ll say is I can’t see National rushing off to make similar changes.

I guess in Labour the desire for more of a say is understandable, as members have traditionally only a very weak say in even electorate selections.

From now on, the leader will be subject to a post-election endorsement vote by the caucus which must take place no later than three months after polling day.

Failure by a leader to secure more than 60 per cent backing from his or her colleagues will trigger a leadership vote involving the whole party.

The upshot is National will spend the election campaign delightedly claiming the Labour leader cannot guarantee he or she will still be in charge three months after the election.

Moreover, the new method of electing the leader gives a slice of the action to affiliated trade unions. You can imagine how National will exploit that.

Oh, yes.

I actually the the principle of giving members a say is laudable. But giving unions 20% of the vote is not far off organised corruption (just look at the Australian unions for examples of what they do with the extra power) and having a threshold below 50% for a challenge is silly.

When they were not naively setting things up to the advantage of the old enemy, delegates occupied themselves with such pressing matters as lowering the voting age to 16 – something for which there is absolutely no demand – and ordering school boards of trustees to let same-sex couples attend school balls.

Then there was the remit requiring 50 per cent gender equality among officials on the party’s electorate committees.

When it was pointed out that most committees had three officials, the conference determined that an extra position such as an assistant treasurer could be created.

Staggering. Their solution is to create an extra unneeded role, just so there is prefect gender equality on a committee. They have effectively outlawed a committee having an add number of members!

This kind of nonsense shows that political correctness is alive and well in Labour.

It speaks of a party that is out of touch with mainstream New Zealand. And it speaks of a leader who has no control over his party.

Where was the strategy for the conference?

The other casualty of what John Key describes as the now very “public war” within Labour is the party’s ability to project unity and stability.

That is a serious handicap for Labour, which may well have to patch together some kind of governing arrangement which accommodates the reforming zeal of the Greens and the reactionary predilections of New Zealand First.

Think if they were to form a Government. They’d first have to get agreement between the internal factions in Labour, and then with the Greens, and then with NZ First and maybe then with Mana also. If another financial crisis struck, it would probably take a month to even make a decision!

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Armstrong on Shearer

October 17th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in NZ Herald:

“Mr Speaker, why should God defend New Zealand?” shouted a man from the front row of the public gallery yesterday after Lockwood Smith’s recital of the parliamentary prayer.

He was quickly bundled away by security staff. But the visitor’s mention of the Almighty left a more pertinent question hanging in the air: “Will God defend David Shearer?”

Ouch.

Shearer’s mention of a supposedly incriminating videotape of John Key addressing GCSB staff has resulted in the Opposition leader turning wine into water.

His failure to produce any such tape has allowed Key to get off the hook and shift questions about credibility on to the Labour leader instead.

During a press conference, Shearer tried to sound forceful and decisive, saying it was the Opposition’s job to ask Key the hard questions.

But he was skewered by equally hard and persistent questioning about the tape.

Absolutely the opposition should hold the Government to account. But that does not mean you make wild allegations with no proof, and then make even wilder accusations about the tape may have been deleted.

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Armstrong fires back

September 15th, 2012 at 7:53 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

Here is a blunt message for a couple of old-school Aro Valley-style socialists:

Get off our backs. Stop behaving like a pair of tut-tutting old dowagers gossiping in the salons. In short, stop making blinkered, cheap-shot accusations of the kind you made this week – that the media who went with John Key to Vladivostok and Tokyo concentrated on trivia, interviewed their laptops and parroted Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet press releases. …

Do the likes of former Listener columnist and Greens propagandist Gordon Campbell and former Alliance staffer and now Otago University politics lecturer Bryce Edwards have the faintest idea of the difficulties, obstacles and logistics of reporting an overseas trip by a prime minister, especially one which incorporates a major international forum like Apec?

Does it occur to them to actually pick up the phone and try to talk to those journalists about what is happening and why things are being reported in a certain way?

Of course not. That would risk the facts getting in the way of, well … interviewing their laptops and having yet another ritual poke at the parliamentary press gallery.

To read their drivel while stuck in a Tokyo traffic jam with your deadline approaching faster than a Japanese bullet-train makes your heart sink. …

But never mind. The rules that apply to journalists in terms of accuracy do not apply to Campbell and his echo chamber Dr Edwards – who is not be confused with Dr Brian Edwards, another blogger, but a far more original one when it comes to ideas and analysis.

Bloggers can blog when they like at what length they wish. Admittedly, they are normally not being paid for the privilege. Journalists are. But on a trip like last week’s one, the hourly rate slumps drastically by virtue of the hours worked.

Few media representatives travelling with John Key would have got more than four or five hours’ sleep each night – probably less – because of the Prime Minister’s schedule, which ran from 6am (earlier if a flight was involved) until well into the evening.

Days were spent clambering on and off buses in 35C heat and 100 per cent humidity.

Time has to be found within that schedule to write news stories and other articles – but not just for the following day’s newspaper. News organisation’s websites have to fed – especially if there is “breaking” news.

Deadlines in Asia are punishing, as countries such as Japan are three hours behind New Zealand, meaning deadlines are effectively even tighter.

Then there is the no small matter of filing stories back home. Equipment breaks down, mobile phones that are supposed to be in harmony with Japan’s system turn out not to be.

To Campbell’s credit, he does do his own digging. He is also a regular attendee at the Prime Minister’s weekly press conference. His blog is one of the more valuable. But he does have a blind spot with regards to the press gallery.

The rapidly growing influence of Edwards’ blog was initially down to its being an exhaustive wrap-up of all of the day’s political news. It is now starting to develop a much more political dynamic that is unlikely to please National.

Edwards’ blog is the extreme example of the fact that most blogsites rely on the mainstream media for their information and then use that information to criticise the media for not stressing something enough or deliberately hiding it.

Unlike the mainstream media, the blogs are not subject to accuracy or taste – and sometimes even the law.

It is the ultimate parasitical relationship. And it will not change until the media start charging for use of their material.

Monday’s media summary by Bryce will be an interesting read.

For my 2c I think John makes a very fair point about the reality of being a working journalist on on overseas trip, and the coverage of issues.

To be fair to Edwards, what he does everyday is not so much about blogging. His summary was originally circualated by e-mail, and it was his collection of links that people most valued. I know, as I sponsored it.

Since then his narrative around the day’s stories has become more prominent, and that is what most now read. Few actually read it I suspect on Bryce’s blog. Most I’d say read it off the NZ Herald and NBR websites, who as I understand it pay Bryce for his work – so not quite an unpaid blogger!

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Armstrong on Peters

June 25th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the Herald:

So much for the theory that Winston Peters was mellowing into Parliament’s version of everyone’s favourite, if somewhat cranky and irascible, uncle.

It was a more familiar Peters who delivered the leader’s address at New Zealand First’s annual convention last Sunday.

The speech was not so much a dog whistle as a wolf howl for attention. There was certainly no coded language to decipher.

His pinging of Chinese immigrants for allegedly sponging off New Zealanders by picking up state-funded super payments and other entitlements without paying any income tax was unquestionably populist – so much so that he was almost parodying himself.

A lot of people view Peters as a benign joker like figure. I’m not one of them. I think he has a history of scape-goating, and trying to convince people that it is the fault of some other group that they can’t receive more money or jobs or benefits.

He instead rationalised his accusation of freeloading by arguing that New Zealanders needed to know all the facts about superannuation rather than being manipulated by the savings and insurance industry into believing there was a “crisis” which required an end to universality in the payment of the state-funded pension.

Peters knows that superannuation is not sustainable. He argued so in 1997, when he proposed compulsory superannuation, saying that people “do not believe that the current arrangements will be there to deliver the same level of assistance in retirement that their parents currently enjoy”. Even worse Peters proposes superannuation be made even more expensive, with an increase in the floor.

It actually did not add up at all. Peters is the one choosing not to put all the facts on the table, especially major Government policy changes affecting those applying for residency under Immigration New Zealand’s family and parent categories.

While Peters rails against Chinese immigrants supposedly gobbling up the super – but then refuses to say what he would do about it – the National-led Government has quietly stolen a march on him. …

What is clear is that imminent changes to immigration rules are going to screen out those unlikely to pay tax.

The parent stream is currently closed pending the introduction of a new two-tier category.

Those applicants earning more than $27,203 a year as singles or nearly $40,000 if they are a couple will be able to go into tier one. They will also have to bring with them at least $500,000 in “settlement funds”.

Their sponsoring adult son or daughter will have to have an annual income of at least $65,000 and have been a New Zealand resident for at least three years.

Those who cannot meet these requirements will go into tier two where the only financial obligation is a lower benchmark of nearly $34,000 in income required of the sponsoring adult child .

Tier one applicants, not surprisingly, will get priority. As do a separate category of parents who can gain entry if they invest a minimum $1 million in New Zealand for at least four years.

With a two-year wait already for applications to be processed and a capped annual limit of 4000 on the number of parents approved for residency, those in tier two could be waiting years to get to the front of the queue.

So in fact the Government has already acted to mitigate the issue that Peters talked about.

Peters also used his convention speech that day to climb into the council for calling for the age of eligibility for super to be lifted to 67.

Claiming the council would be pushing for the privatisation of super, he also rounded on its chair, his old bete noire Jenny Shipley, who openly campaigned against Peters’ proposed compulsory savings scheme while National was in coalition with New Zealand First in the late 1990s.

This is such a bending of truth, it is hilarious. Peters proposal in 1997 was to effectively privatise superannuation, and Shipley was a prominent campaigner against it.

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Armstrong on Shearer

March 17th, 2012 at 10:44 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in NZ Herald:

But Thursday’s speech contained enough hints of a change in the party’s direction to put several feral cats among Labour’s pigeons.

It made it clear Shearer will ditch policies that made Labour feel good about itself but which left voters cold – policies like Goff’s “tax-free zone” for the first $5000 of income, the promise to remove GST from fresh fruit and vegetables and the manifesto commitment to introduce a new top tax rate on income above $150,000.

That is the first suggestion I have seen that Shearer is also looking to dump the proposed rich prick tax. I hope they do. The top tax rate was dropped to 33% by Labour in the 1980s in return for bringing in a 10% GST and getting rid of tax loopholes. There is no need to raise it, except envy.

Perhaps most significant of all was the speech’s incursion into what has been an effective no-go area – the seemingly unfettered power of the teacher unions to run a ruler over the party’s education policy.,

However, education is central to Shearer’s plan to build the “new New Zealand”. It was here the speech was at its most blunt in putting bad teachers and badly run schools on notice. He later acknowledged it might be necessary to pay teachers more. It can only be assumed he was reserving any such salary increases for the good ones despite performance pay being viewed with intense suspicion by the teacher unions.

Shearer can leave National behind here. National has not committed to performance pay. If Labour does, that would make National look a follower not a leader.

Shearer intends shifting Labour’s mind-set away from not upsetting the practitioners of policy – be they teachers, public servants or whomever – to satisfying the consumers of policy, parents in this case.

I look forward to this being applied to industrial relations also.

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Armstrong on Labour

December 3rd, 2011 at 2:05 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

Nothing should be exempt from scrutiny. Not even that most delicate of subjects – the role of the party’s trade union affiliates.

Will any of the leadership contenders have the courage to say that Labour should be a party of one person, one vote?

The party kidded itself – as it had done since losing power – that voters would come “home” to Labour once they came to their senses and realised the overwhelming superiority of its policies and that John Key is not quite what the media cracked him up to be.

This toxic combination of false hope and unfathomable arrogance was shattered last Saturday.

The arrogance is unbelievable. How many times have you heard from a Labour MP that Labour won the campaign? I don’t recall anyone in National in 2002 claiming National won the campaign. Quite the opposite – National did an independent review of what went wrong.

Labour’s overall vote shrank by 15 per cent at the 2008 election. That was not unusual for a party that had been in power for nine years. But Saturday night’s result saw Labour’s vote shrink again, this time by 23 per cent on the 2008 provisional result.

All up, nearly 300,000 voters deserted Labour between 2005 and 2011 – that amounts to 35 per cent of the party’s 2005 election night tally.

That reminds me of Darien Fenton’s reaction to someone suggesting that Labour should try to win back the votes of former supporters such as the Mad Butcher. Her response was “Why?”. It sums it up.

Take welfare reform. These are tough times. People who are working cannot fathom why those on benefits – including sole parents – should not be obliged to look for work. Labour’s response that there are no jobs misses the point. Worse, Labour promised to make beneficiaries eligible for the in-work payment – a device which was designed by the last Labour Government to reward those finding work. Labour would have turned what was a hand-up into a handout.

That was one of their worst policies – $70 a week more for a parent not in work and $10 a week for a parent in work.

Perhaps the best example where Labour is wrongly positioned is national education standards. Parents want them – plus league tables rating schools’ performance to boot.

Labour predictably sided with the teacher unions. That may have produced a warm glow of solidarity. Siding with parents – as the Australian Labor Party did on the issue – would have sent a powerful message about Labour’s readiness to adapt and modernise.

Australian Labor is far far more moderate than NZ Labour.

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