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.



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.

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!

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?”


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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

Hager’s book

September 2nd, 2011 at 9:11 am by David Farrar

Two different takes on Nicky Hager’s latest book. John Armstong writes in the Herald:

Those who think Nicky Hager is just another left-wing stirrer and dismiss his latest book accordingly should think again.

Likewise, the country’s politicians should read Other People’s Wars before condemning it.

Whatever Hager’s motive for investigating New Zealand’s contribution over the past decade to the United States-led “war on terror”, it is pretty irrelevant when placed alongside the mountain of previously confidential and very disturbing information his assiduous research and inquiries have uncovered.

With the help of well-placed informants and thousands of leaked documents, Hager exposes the cynical manner in which the Defence Force has purposely misled the public by omission of pertinent facts and public relations flannel.

This is particularly the case with regard to the “candyfloss” image the military has built around the deployment of New Zealand soldiers in the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan.

That image is of our soldiers acting more like peacekeepers armed with nothing more dangerous than a shovel.

The last couple of paragraphs do resonate with me to a degree. People forget that Helen Clark sent soliders into both Iraq and Afghanistan. With the exception of the SAS deployment (which she simply wouldn’t talk about), they were portrayed as just being engineers and builders who happen to be soldiers. Their role we were told was purely to help the locals, and nothing to do with those nasty wars.

Fair enough. But the Defence Force has sought to paint this deployment in a completely different light. Hager has cut through that pretence with the evidence to prove what has always been surmised – that the real reason for such deployments was not to help the inhabitants of Bamiyan but to impress the hawks in Washington.

Hopefully it is a mixture of both, but I’ve never doubted that Clark sending troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan was about keeping the US and to a degree the UK happy.

Vernon Small has a different take at Stuff:

A speed read of Nicky Hager’s latest book shows his usual impressive access to detailed documents and meticulous sourcing.

The insiders’ claims about ministers being kept in the dark may be true; the SAS in particular is obsessive about secrecy to the point that even a description of the ceremony farewelling Corporal Doug Grant was refused.

But the lens Hager uses gives a different view of New Zealand’s base at Bamiyan than one gleaned from a week-long visit there last month.

For instance, he claims that, despite media visits and hundreds of soldiers passing through the base, the military managed to keep secret the fact that they shared the Bamiyan camp with a United States intelligence base.

In fact, I, and other reporters before me, were introduced to US intelligence and communications staff at Bamiyan and at other Kiwi forward bases and ate and chatted with them. The stars and stripes flies alongside the New Zealand flag at Bamiyan to advertise the US contingent.

I’ve said before that Hager has good research skills, but his failing is he sees (or portrays) everything as a conspiracy or deep dark secret.

It was not a surprise that New Zealand is plugged in to the US-Nato intelligence and communication system across the war-torn country. It is something this reporter was specifically briefed on, although with a request not to publish details for operational security reasons.

Suffice to say that, from my observations, the information Kiwi troops glean is far more extensive than anything that flows the other way. Was the CIA there? I don’t know, and Hager only surmises.

The links tell New Zealand forces where other coalition forces are operating and let them call in US air support, both key factors in a multi-national force. Problems getting air support were highlighted in the report on the attack that killed Lieutenant Timothy O’Donnell.

Sounds reasonable to me.

Hager also points to a lack of understanding among the public about the Kiwis’ role in Bamiyan; that coverage was all airbrushed PR spin showing “friendly New Zealand soldiers handing out gifts to smiling children, building schools and wells”.

He may have had a case in the early years.

But for almost three years now, after the 2009 attack on the base at Do Abe and the first Kiwi casualties caused the military to upgrade its armoured vehicles from Hiluxes to LAVs, there has been no shortage of coverage highlighting the risks and the dangers.

Far from trying to cover that up, the soldiers on the ground I talked to were eager for the New Zealand public to know they were fighting in a dangerous war zone.

I think this is right. Early on things were somewhat sugar-coated, but I think in recent years we’ve come to understand better how the Bamiyan mission is not some safe engineering operation.

John Armstrong on Labour

August 27th, 2011 at 5:15 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong in NZ Herald writes:

For three years, Phil Goff has tirelessly pushed his boulder Sisyphus-like up the hill, only for it to roll back down each time. Now, however, the rock may have slid down the hill one too many times.

Over the past couple of weeks, cracks have appeared in Labour’s united front, giving National added reason to believe it can secure the electoral equivalent of El Dorado – winning enough seats in an MMP election to govern alone.

Labour’s legendary self-discipline seems to be crumbling under the relentless pressure of bad polls.

I wouldn’t get too fixated about whether National will win enough seats to govern alone. National’s aim is to get around 48% of the vote, not to govern alone. And the margin will close during the campaign.

But what John is correct to note is that for the first time there are significant splits showing in Labour. A number of Labour MPs are now of the view that a change is necessary – basically that any change is better than no change. They can be counted on one hand, but they are now there.

You also have Cunliffe and Jones especially starting to gather supporters for the post-election leadership vote, assuming Labour loses.

Witness the unfortunate outburst from Dunedin South backbencher Clare Curran, flaying the Greens for having the temerity to encroach on territory which apparently belongs to Labour as of right.

Of more serious note, some senior Labour MPs clearly think November’s election is a foregone conclusion, and are now focusing on what happens afterwards leadership-wise, positioning themselves accordingly.

The net effect of this is to leave Phil Goff marooned exactly where National wants him – in an ineffectual limbo with his leadership destabilised, but not so much that he must be removed before the election.

It is a skill to aim to wound, rather than kill. But generally the shots are self-inflicted – not a result of enemy fire.

Most damaging has been the leaking of suggestions that Goff offered to resign as leader during a recent meeting of Labour’s front-bench MPs.

What Goff apparently said was that he had put everything into the job for the past three years, and anyone who wasn’t happy with his performance should stick their hand up. No one did.

The only motive for the leak would be to undermine Goff before the election campaign to ensure he loses.

Or to undermine him, so he can be rolled before the election. Either way it means someone on the Labour front bench is undermining Goff.

Voters’ ratings of his attributes as a leader – as measured by the 3 News poll – have become more unfavourable since he took over from Clark in late 2008.

On the crucial questions of whether he is a capable leader, good in a crisis and having sound judgment, Goff’s initially positive ratings have slumped.

Over the last two year, Goff’s rating as a capable leader has dropped from 53% to 38%, good in a crisis from 51% to 40%, honesty from 45% to 34% and sound judgement from 57% to 42%.

While much is made of the 1951 election as the last time a party won more than 50 per cent of the vote, National has topped 47 per cent in seven of the 22 post-war elections.

It is also worth noting that Labour, in winning a second term in office in 1987, raised its vote from 43 to 48 per cent.

That’s a stat I hadn’t seen before. National got over 47% in 1946 (but still lost), 52% in 1949, 54% in 1951, 48% in 1960, 47% in 1963, 47% in 1966, 48% in 1975, and 48% in 1990.

When the positioning going on within Labour is taken into account, what is happening is that the early stages of the 2014 election campaign are being played out before this year’s one has started.

All rather bizarre, to say the least.

I suppose it allows Labour to say they are forward looking 🙂

Armstrong on Labour’s day of shame

August 6th, 2011 at 10:59 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

The Labour Party does not have very much cause to feel grateful for anything right now. But it should get down on bended knee and thank the Almighty that hardly anybody would have been watching Parliament late on Wednesday afternoon.

Anyone doing so would have witnessed a spectacle which would immediately have brought several words to mind – words such as pitiful, pathetic, embarrassing and disgraceful.

You can watch for yourself at In the House.

What matters now is that last Wednesday things shifted from straight filibuster to pure farce. The only characters needed to make this Trevor Mallard-orchestrated protest a complete pantomime were Chuckles the Clown and Dorothy the Dinosaur.

Labour not only demeaned itself, again – something it is perfectly at liberty to do – it also demeaned Parliament, and that is unacceptable.

For the best part of an hour, Labour MPs raised timewasting points of order and forced a series of pointless votes to try to stop debate on Roy’s bill from even starting.

Labour made repeated demands that Speaker Lockwood Smith be recalled to the chamber to rule on decisions made by National’s Eric Roy, who was chairing the House.

This went beyond the ridiculous by including decisions from Roy (no relation to Heather Roy) granting those very Labour MPs the call to speak in the debate – a perverse case of deliberately biting the hand that feeds.

Next time Labour protests the use of urgency, they should be reminded of this.

Some of the Labour MPs caught up in this episode must now surely regret it.

One such MP, Wellington Central’s Grant Robertson, felt obliged to post a lengthy explanation on Red Alert, the Labour MPs’ blog.

He made no apology for the ways in which Labour was trying to stop Roy’s bill. He admitted it was “unedifying” – surely the understatement of the week – but claimed it was all part and parcel of parliamentary practice.

Well, no. A clear line can be drawn between trying to delay a measure’s progress through Parliament by filibuster and trying to find and exploit gaps, loopholes and apparent anomalies in Parliament’s rules to subvert the will of the majority. Labour crossed that line.

On top of that, Labour’s filibustering has denied other parties’ MPs the opportunity to get their own private member’s bills – some of which are worthy measures deserving of enactment – on to the order paper.

That is unfair. But it is symptomatic of Labour’s lingering arrogance from its years in power.

Incredibly, it continues to try to pull the wool over voters’ eyes by promising to bring in private member’s bills to block things such as National’s plans for partial state asset sales. Such talk is poppycock. Such bills would first have to be lucky enough to be drawn in the ballot which determines which bills get on to the order paper.

In the last ballot, 24 bills were vying for a lone spot.

Furthermore, there has not been a ballot since November last year. No prizes for guessing who is responsible for that.

This has been the delicious irony. Labour have blocked every single Labour and Green private members bill from progressing, in their desire to ensure their mates retain compulsory funding. And it has all been for nothing.

Armstrong on Key

May 11th, 2011 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

Labour was truly firing in Parliament yesterday – with the accuracy of an antique blunderbuss.

The major Opposition party is aiming all its barrels in John Key’s direction in the hope something hits. But the target has suffered only the occasional flesh wound and otherwise seems to be functioning normally.

Labour’s current parliamentary tactic is to turn ministers’ question-time into New Zealand’s equivalent of Prime Minister’s question-time in the British House of Commons.

The party devoted its allocation of five questions solely to going after Key.

But be it the cost of repainting Premier House or money for promoting the Maori tourist industry, Key was sufficiently well briefed yesterday to make mincemeat of his interrogators from Labour’s more junior ranks.

The only thing better than watching the House, is also viewing Twitter at the same time. A gaggle of Labour MPs complain in chorus about how dare the PM say this or that.

Armstrong on Goff

March 24th, 2011 at 8:03 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

The Labour Party will not be judged by what Darren Hughes has or has not done in his private life.

It will be judged according to how Phil Goff handles the crisis which has enveloped one of Labour’s bright young rising stars and consequently the party as well.

Goff’s management of the crisis has already begged a major question. Why did the Labour leader not immediately stand Hughes down from his roles as Labour’s chief whip and education spokesman two weeks ago when the MP told him he was the subject of a police investigation?

It is a surprise that Phil Goff, Labour Party Leader, did not take the advice of Phil Goff, Leader of the Opposition. Here’s a quote from PGLOTO in 2009:

Opposition leader Phil Goff said today Mr Key should have sacked Dr Worth last week.

“The matter could have been dealt with rather more promptly,” Mr Goff said.

So let us compare the cases of Dr Worth and Mr Hughes.

  1. Dr Worth’s leader is informed of a Police complaint. He briefly investigates, and then sacks Dr Worth. All of this occurs before the Police complaint is even made public. PGLOTO claims the matter should have been dealt with more promptly.
  2. Mr Hughes’ leader is informed of a Police complaint. PGLPL does nothing at all until the matter becomes public.

John Armstrong notes:

Had he gone on the front foot then – rather than being forced to fess up yesterday in the face of rapidly snowballing media inquiries – Goff would have got some plaudits for being upfront.

He would also have got marks for consistency. Back in 2009, Goff launched into John Key for not immediately stripping Richard Worth of his ministerial warrant after the Prime Minister had been apprised of allegations of a sexual nature made against the then National MP.

Goff now risks being marked down for double standards.

Rather large double standards.

Goff’s political management accordingly starts to look misguided at best and downright stupid at worst.

I’ll be generous and say they are thinking with their hearts, not their heads.

UPDATE: Phil Goff just interviewed by Sean Plunket on NewstalkZB. Goff said it is up to the Police to decide if Hughes’ behaviour was appropriate. Plunket pointed out that no their job is to decide if his behaviour was criminal. Goff does not seem to understand the difference.

Armstrong lashes Goff

February 1st, 2011 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

It being election year, Phil Goff has decided to hold a press conference every Monday to counter the Prime Minister’s use of his weekly media briefing to set the political agenda. Yesterday’s first effort was hardly an unqualified success.

Instead of setting the agenda, Goff found it being set for him by the media. The questions had a recurring theme – where is the money coming from to fund Labour’s seemingly ever-expanding list of promises.

I am amazed that Labour has embarked on this strategy to dent its credibility. At a time when deficits and debt are so high, you can’t just announce spending plans with no way to pay for them.

Goff’s reluctance to provide detail beyond saying Labour would ditch some projects – such as the scheduled $875 million missile upgrade for the navy’s frigates – turned the 18-minute press conference into the media equivalent of shooting a rather large fish in a relatively small barrel.

Having got rid of any offensive capability for the Air Force, it seems they want to do the same for the Navy. Regardless the $875m is a one off capital cost – these upgrades probably happen every 30 years or so. You can’t fund much operational expenditure from delaying a capital upgrade.

One example suffices. Goff gave a “heads up” on families from today having to pay an extra $25 to $35 a week in early childhood education fees, something he described as a “tragedy” for childhood learning.

So would Labour restore funding to previous levels? Goff confirmed it was a “priority”. Almost in the same breath, though, he said that would happen as spare revenue “becomes available”. Given other priorities, Labour would not be able to restore those previous levels in its first Budget.

That begged the question of when is a priority really a priority or when is a priority just something on a long list of things a new Labour Government would want to do if it had the money.

I think John has absolutely analysed it correctly – a priority means “would like to do it if we could”

Unwilling to say exactly where the money would come from, Goff sounds like someone who not only thinks he can have his cake, but also eat more of it than exists.


Labour faces a conundrum. It has no choice but to say where it stands to have any hope of jolting the polls. Goff’s reluctance to say how Labour will pay for it all is fast turning a question of credibility into a credibility problem.

There’s a reason we refer to it as Goofynomics. It s lacking in credibility.

Armstrong’s Awards

December 18th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstring gives otu his awards in the NZ Herald:

  • Politician of the Year – John Key
  • Rising Star – Hekia Parata. Also mentioned – Amy Adams, Michael Woodhouse, David Parker, David Cunliffe, Brendon Burns
  • Quiet Achiever – Tim Groser
  • Best Speech – John Key on the day of the second explosion at Pike River
  • Best Speech in Parliament – Amy Adams for her personal account of the Canterbury Earthquake
  • Most extraordinary speech – Heather Roy’s “black swans” speech to the ACT conference
  • Wrong speech – Jonathan Coleman
  • Mission Impossible Award for Salesmanship – Bill English for getting GSt increased with hardly a murmur
  • Mr Bean Award for Complete Absence of Salemanship – Gerry Brownlee for mining in National Parks
  • Complete Lack of Political Bottle Award – Steven Joyce and John Key for not lowering teh blood-alcohol limit
  • Gone but not forgotten – Jeanette Fitzsimons
  • Gone and already forgotten – David Garrett
  • Foot in Mouth Award – Phil Goff for calling Cunliffe Caygill
  • Stunned Mullet Award – John Key for not reacting to Paul Henry’s comments on the Governor-General
  • Kim Jong-il Award for Self-Glorification: Chris Carter.
  • Tammy Wynette “Stand by your Man” Award: Pansy Wong for demonstrating what she thought of her role as Minister of Women’s Affairs by putting her husband, Sammy, first, her career second.
  • Oscar for Worst Performance in a Supporting Role: The CTU for The Hobbit.

Armstrong on National barbarians

November 30th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

For most Wellingtonians, Pukerua Bay is notable only for a couple of kilometres-long stretch of State Highway One where the speed limit briefly but annoyingly drops from 100km/h to 50 km/h and creates another bottle-neck on the slow trip north.

Not for me. My grandmother lived in Pukerua Bay and I would often train up there as a kid to spend weekends and holidays there. I have an intimate knowledge of all the playgrounds in Pukerua Bay 🙂

It is here that a major shift in voter behaviour was noticeable in last Saturday’s extraordinary outcome of the Mana byelection. …

In Pukerua Bay, where a large proportion of people designate themselves as “professional” for Census purposes, National’s Hekia Parata won by 249 votes to 217. Go back to the 2002 and 2005 elections and you find Labour winning the booth on the party vote – the fairer measure as the candidate vote was distorted by the huge personal appeal of Winnie Laban, whose retirement prompted the byelection.

Pukerua Bay went narrowly in National’s favour in 2008 – an indication that Clark’s cross-over appeal was on the wane.

But the trend was replicated elsewhere in outlying settlements of Porirua City, such as Plimmerton and Pauatahanui. National’s share of the vote even increased in less well-off Titahi Bay.

There are still wealthy pockets of Mana, such as Paekakariki and Raumati South, where Labour’s support remains staunch. These settlements may have saved the blushes of Labour candidate and now MP, Kris Fa’afoi. But with the Key machine carving out more territory in middle New Zealand for occupation by National, Fa’afoi should not be relying on them remaining faithful next year.

Labour’s stranglehold on Wellington is under threat; the National barbarians are storming the city’s northern gates.

I’m going to be watching Mana with interest in the 2011 election.

Armstrong on Labour

October 2nd, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

At the end of his column, John Armstrong states:

That change has been accompanied by a major attitude shift. Labour has distributed a flyer which seeks to deliberately trick people into thinking that National is responsible for the entire GST component of their bills.

Just as scurrilous is Labour’s bogus assurance that the $270 million cost (at least) of forgoing GST on fresh fruit and veges will be funded by the recent rise in excise duty on tobacco. That money is already accounted for in Government spending.

Goff is playing hard ball. He has little option. National beware. The old enemy is going to be a tougher and rougher election-year proposition than you might think.

This is a diplomatic way of saying Labour will not hesitate to lie and deceive – both over what National has done, and over how its promises can be paid for.

This will not come as a shock to National. They are well used to it. Remember the pamphlets authorised at the highest levels claiming National will sell state houses and evict the tenants? Pure lies.

I wonder if the Government should not amend the Electoral Act to make it riskier for Labour to try and use deliberate lies as a campaign strategy. S199A says:

Every person is guilty of a corrupt practice who, with the intention of influencing the vote of any elector, at any time on polling day before the close of the poll, or at any time on any of the 2 days immediately preceding polling day, publishes, distributes, broadcasts, or exhibits, or causes to be published, distributed, broadcast, or exhibited, in or in view of any public place a statement of fact that the person knows is false in a material particular.

Maybe have that apply for the final two weeks instead of final two days?

Armstrong on Earthquake response

September 11th, 2010 at 11:35 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

The Prime Minister would be less than human if he wasn’t disappointed at having to cancel his weekend engagement as the Queen’s guest at Balmoral Castle, the royal family’s residence in Scotland.

Such an invitation to a New Zealand prime minister is unprecedented and shows the degree of rapport John Key has with the head of state.

I had also heard that indeed the PM and the Queen has developed a strong rapport. While I am a republican, I am also a big fan of the Queen’s integrity and sense of service – and like the idea that our Head of Government and Head of State get on very well.

This was the psyche of the one-time foreign exchange dealer prepared to take a calculated risk. Except in this case any benefit accruing from hob-nobbing with royalty would have been largely personal. And those pluses would have been totally outweighed by the minuses Key would have notched up back home.

I agree it would have been a very bad look to go ahead.

So far, National’s response to the crisis has been largely exemplary and criticism-free. The Government has been relentlessly single-minded in focusing on providing and co-ordinating a recovery strategy for Christchurch. It has driven the public service to the limit in getting that strategy implemented.

High praise.

If anyone needs convincing that Christchurch is a city on edge, they need only replay Wednesday’s speech in Parliament by National backbencher Amy Adams.

The MP, whose Selwyn electorate encircles part of Christchurch, came closer than anyone so far in capturing the horror of last Saturday’s quake and the psychological anguish felt by many in the after shock-filled aftermath.

I blogged it yesterday. It really made it real for those of us lucky enough to be unaffected.

This is a climate which does not look kindly at penny-pinching by the state. The country is expecting generosity for those who have suffered. Saturday’s earthquake has loosened National’s purse strings.

Twice in two weeks – the first being the payout to depositors in South Canterbury Finance – Finance Minister Bill English has had to explain why the Government’s books are still “manageable” when he previously argued there was no room for more spending.

National would argue the extra spending is a matter of necessity, not choice. But it has undermined English’s pleas for restraint elsewhere, while making it harder for him to find the money for election-motivated giveaways in next year’s Budget.

I disagree. I think the spending on SCF and the earthquake makes it harder for people to argue extra spending elsewhere. Teachers look petty striking for free laptops, when the Government is spending its very limited funds on rebuilding Christchurch.

Armstrong on the politics of the earthquake

September 9th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

The politicians are already playing politics, however, though not too flagrantly. Saying you are not going to play politics – as Goff effectively did – is itself a political statement. As was John Key’s decision to cancel his trip to Britain and France. As was Labour’s suggestion that yesterday was not the day for the verbal combat of ministers’ question-time in Parliament to be on display.

I thought that was very smart, and impressed that Labour suggested it. The decision provoked some hysteria from No Right Turn:

Meanwhile, Parliament has cancelled Question Time today, on the grounds that holding the government to account might be upsetting to the people of Christchurch. So, the earthquake hasn’t just damaged several Canterbury landmarks, but our democracy as well. If the politicians believe it is unseemly to query and crow about the earthquake response (which has been good – an example of what government can do for us), then they could not do so. But to deem it unseemly to question the government in any way in the wake of a crisis comes disturbingly close to fascism.

Yes having the Opposition offer to have one less question time a year, is indeed close to fascism. I mean it is just like burning down the Reichstag.

Armstrong continues:

As was the PM’s second visit to Christchurch since the quake. As was Goff’s decision to ask to accompany Key in what was his second visit to the city in almost as many days.

Again thought that was a very neat thing to do.

Labour argues that Goff’s presence is justified by Christchurch being a Labour city.

Oh, just when they were doing so well. I was saying all these nice things about Labour, and they say something stupid. There was no need to justify Goff’s presence – he is the Leader of the Opposition. But to claim justification on the basis it is a Labour city is stupid. Does that mean that if the earthquake had hit the North Shore of Auckland, Goff would not visit – or if it had been another Napier earthquake?

Incidentally Christchurch is not the old republic it used to be. National received 4,889 more party votes in the five urban seats, and if you include the two rural seats, they received 21,472 more party votes.

Armstrong on SCF

September 2nd, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Just caught up with John Armstrong’s column from yesterday:

Watching John Key and Bill English dispose of South Canterbury Finance yesterday was a bit like watching a python swallowing an antelope.

Except it all happened a lot quicker.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance must have swallowed hard at the prospect of forking out $1.6 billion under the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme.

They had no choice. But they did have plenty of warning of the likely receivership. So the Government was ready with a plan.

That involved wrapping its jaws around the company, swallowing it whole and spitting out anything which might have stopped it becoming the sole creditor.

That way the Government is now calling the shots, even though the failed company is technically under the control of receivers.

So good marks for the Government. And Labour:

Otherwise, this was one of the smoothest crisis-management operations conducted by this Government.

It is on such days that the Opposition is better off displaying bipartisan support.

Phil Goff, instead, took the line that the firm might have traded its way out were economic conditions more favourable. It was the Government’s fault that was not the case.

This line is truly hard to swallow given South Canterbury Finance’s difficulties sprang from the heady boom times in the property market when Labour was in power.

Goff would have been better advised to have said nothing.

One of the challenges of Opposition is to hold your tongue and not try for cheap publicity on every issue.

An opportunity for Labour?

August 12th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

Labour will have very mixed feelings about being forced by one of its MPs to fight a byelection in Mana, even though it is one of the party’s safest seats in the Wellington region.

The byelection sparked by Winnie Laban’s departure to a job at Victoria University is a nuisance for Labour and an opportunity.

I like the idea put forward by Matthew Hooton on National Radio this week. Matthew proposed that Labour should arrange an effective mini-election in November – by-elections in Mana, Te Atatu, Manurewa and Wigram.

This could be a circuit breaker for Labour – they’d get publicity for four to six weeks, and would probably win all four seats, achieving a massive rejuvenation. This would help their chances in 2011 significantly, as they would look a lot less like the bunch thrown out.

Armstrong on Welfare Reform

August 11th, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

While displaying a high degree of caution and retaining its right to change its mind up to the last minute, John Key’s National Government is clearly steeling itself to go where no National Government has gone before.

It is planning fundamental reform of the welfare system in an election year.

That much – though not much more – could be gleaned from the Prime Minister’s reaction to yesterday’s release of an “issues paper” produced by the Paula Rebstock-chaired welfare working group charged with reviewing the benefit system.

Great. A sacred cow left alone for too long.

Armstrong flays National

August 7th, 2010 at 9:44 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong lets loose at National with both barrels:

Shame on National. That party’s behaviour in Parliament over the past couple of weeks has on occasion veered close to being a disgrace both to itself and the institution.

Not that many people would have noticed, however. National’s antics inside the House have been totally shrouded by those of Chris Carter outside. …

The upshot is that Labour – almost by accident – has given National an old-fashioned hiding on that most fundamental of all questions: which party can be can best trusted with the reins of economic management. The one compensating factor for National is that all this has happened largely out of public view.

However, it has given considerable momentum to the three-pronged strategy that Labour is developing in order to try to win the economic policy argument at next year’s election.

The first prong is to endlessly repeat that National has “no plan” – that National has no solutions which will lift economic growth.

That notion has gained currency following National’s recent clutch of policy reversals. The damage done to National’s 2025 goal is of considerable help in reinforcing that narrative.

Hopefully a few people are reading John’s column, and working on ways to prevent a repeat.

Armstrong on Activists

July 24th, 2010 at 10:21 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

The left-wing activists who stormed the Sky City Hotel last Sunday in an inevitably futile attempt to force their way into the National Party conference should take a good hard look at themselves.

The noisy fracas with security guards inside Auckland’s Temple to Capitalism certainly got the activists what they wanted – top-of-the-bulletin coverage on that evening’s television news. But if they think such tactics are going to mobilise public opinion against the Government’s just-released package of workplace law reforms then they should think again.

Their actions were widely viewed within the Labour Party as unhelpful, though no one was saying so publicly.

Sue Bradford and John Minto charging a Police line just sends people into the opposite direction.

While others on the left have been quick to label National’s package as a “class war” being waged on the country’s workers, Labour has avoided using such over-the-top language.

When it comes to portraying National’s policy prescription, there is a danger of crying wolf. More so because much of the package is based on National’s 2008 election policy. That prescription pleasantly surprised some left-wing commentators for being so moderate and not a return to the Employment Contracts Act. They cannot now turn around and argue that the package released by Key last Sunday is designed to wage class war.

And many aspects will actually be welcomed by employees such as the ability to trade leave for pay.

Even the 90 day trial period will be popular with many employees I reckon. We’ve all seen new people hired at a workplace and within a week or two it is apparent they are not up to the job. It isn’t just the bosses, but the other employees, who often have to carry them until they finally leave.

Armstrong on Foreshore & Seabed

April 1st, 2010 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

National’s long-awaited prescription for healing that weeping political sore otherwise known as the foreshore and seabed should be grabbed with both hands by the Maori Party.

It will not get a better deal than the one outlined in the discussion document released by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson yesterday. National has stretched beyond the normal limits of its flexibility to come up with a lasting solution.

A stark assessment.

The arrival (finally) of Finlayson’s discussion document heralds Decision Day for the party, however. It can no longer cling to the foreshore and seabed like some kind of comfort blanket.

It is now or never – or, at least, not for a long time to come.

That means swallowing National’s intention to make the the foreshore and seabed a “public domain” which no one owns, something which sticks in the craw of Maori who insist ownership of the foreshore and seabed is their inalienable right.

That can be insisted upon, but in no way is that what the Court of Appeal ruled.