Will Key do a Cameron?

November 15th, 2011 at 2:42 pm by David Farrar

This is David Cameron endorsing a vote against AV in the Uk referendum. Whale wants John Key to do the same here, but in terms of our referendum.

Jon Johansson takes the other approach. he blogs:

John Key’s decision to speak out against MMP smells of partisan greed and hubris. It also raises questions for women, Asian and Pasifika voters and about what his tactics have been all along

I was staggered to hear on television Prime Minister John Key say that although he was “not entirely unhappy” with MMP, he intended to vote for change. The PM said while he likes proportionality, he “slightly prefers the characteristics of Supplementary Member (SM)”.

I think Jon’s post is a massive over-reaction. The PM was asked a question and he answered it. He said over a year ago his preference was SM, so this is no revelation or surprise.

We have a Prime Minister who wishes to vote to turn back progress for women participating in parliamentary politics, and a Prime Minister who in defiance of our dramatically changing demographics prefers not to facilitate Asian New Zealanders, Pacifika New Zealanders, or other ethnic Kiwis participating in their own democracy.

Jon is absolutely entitled to his view of John Key, but he is being rather hysterical in his tone, and is overlooking the fact that with 30 List MPs, one can still have plenty of female, Asian, and Pacific representation. It is not minorities that get disadvantaged by SM, rather it is minor parties (or parties that do not win electorate seats).

Jon’s rant is a perfect example of what I have said many times with this debate. Supporters of MMP hysterically denounce anyone who disagrees with them as anti-democratic, when in fact all five electoral systems on offer are perfectly democratic. I do not include Sandra Grey from the Campaign fro MMP in my criticism – I have found her to be very upfront about acknowledging that all systems have strengths and weaknesses, and it depends on what you value most.

If I was a woman I’d be very unhappy that my Prime Minister, one who has seemed to make MMP work rather effortlessly, has decided to favour an electoral system that will make it harder for me or my daughters or grand-daughters to pursue a political career. If I was an Asian or Pacifika Kiwi I’d be concerned that the Prime Minister wants to limit my and my children’s ambitions in the expansion of his own.

I am also, apart from being a political scientist, an ordinary citizen and I am appalled my Prime Minister supports a system that will make my vote less equal than it is now under MMP.

I think Jon makes it very clear how he will be voting. Further Jon is all but advocating people not to vote National. He is in danger of being more of a political activist than a political scientist.

I should point out here that I will  not be voting for SM in Part B of the referendum. I’ll blog in a few days on how I am voting on both parts and why. What I object to is the extremists who condemn people for daring to say they support SM or FPP or any of the five systems. My advice to Jon is to take in a few deep breaths and relax.

I don’t seem to recall Jon objecting so strongly when Phil Goff and Metiria Turei stated their preferences. In fact they have both been far far more vocal than Key on their preference.

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Johansson on Obama

April 9th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

For those interested in US politics.

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Herald on Govt’s first year

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

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

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

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

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

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

In another article, Armstrong reviews Key himself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they still are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The battles of yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Armstrong also reviews Bill English.

Claire Trevett talks to Tariana Turia:

Do you still have that level of trust in National?

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

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

Have there been difficult choices?

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

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

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

Jon Johannsson talks leadership:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think this is fair criticism.

Finally John Roughan:

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

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

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

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

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

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Jon Johannsson’s 2008 Awards

December 22nd, 2008 at 10:16 am by David Farrar

Jon Johannsson at Pundit gives out his 2008 awards in his final column:

  • Politician of the Year – John Key
  • Politician of the Decade – Helen Clark
  • Comeback Politician of the Year – Roger Douglas and then Bill English
  • Political Loser of the Year – Gordon Copeland
  • Political Event of the Year – Privileges Committee hearings into Winston Peters’ conduct
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The Obama Speech

August 29th, 2008 at 3:55 pm by David Farrar

A very nice event at the Embassy, watching the speech on the big screen. Obama does look almost flawless when he speaks and has a style which is graceful, if that is the word.

It was interesting he hit McCain quite hard and it was more substance than the rhetoric of previous speeches. He pledged to end oil imports within 10 years, which personally I think is impossible.

Jon Johansson spoke after the speech and gave what I thought was a good critique of it – he had been critical of some of the earlier speeches but said this was Obama’s best compared to the primary speeches. Johansson also said Bill Clinton’s speech last night was very powerful – again I agree.

The video they showed before hand on Obama’s life was pretty powerful also – told a carefully scripted and appealing story (and Margaret Clark I think pointed out very focused on appealing to working class Americans).

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How to recover?

June 29th, 2008 at 7:18 pm by David Farrar

Keith Ng looks at how Labour can recover from four post-budget polls which has them 20% to 25% behind National.

It’s a label that Labour can’t seem to shake off, but that’s because nobody knows what Labour really stands for, says Dr Jon Johansson, a leadership expert at Victoria University. “The real weakness of Clark is that there is no over-arching explanation as to what the purpose of her government is. We’ve seen this right through the three terms.

“It never mattered for the first two terms, when National was in disarray,” says Johansson. “One year it’s economic transformation, then it’s environmental sustainability. In the absence of some over-arching narrative about purpose, people end up thinking, ‘Well, all these people want is to stay in power’. Clark has always abhorred rhetoric, and now she’s paying the price for that.”

It is true that Labour has almost swapped goals every few months, and with none of them really being achieved. If National gains office and wants to retain office it is going to have to have a couple of simple goals which it can measure progress against at every election.

Johansson thinks that Clark needs to explain the purpose of her government, and in particular, front up over its most unpopular positions: the Electoral Finance Act and why it took so long to give tax cuts.

I think it is too late on both those fronts. The basic truth is the motives behind the EFA were a crude attempt to fuck over National and critics of the Government, and help gain a permament grasp on power.

The tax cuts issues may once have been redeemable for them, but they mishandled the Budget even though it did deliver tax cuts. Instead of the public seeing a Government talking about how pleased they were to let peopel keep more of their own money, they just saw a gloating Dr Cullen boast about how he had prevented National from offering bigger tax cuts.

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Trevett previews budget

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

Claire Trevett previews the budget issues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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