Garner on Little

November 22nd, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Duncan Garner writes:

A bunch of faceless union hacks chose Andrew Little to lead the Labour Party this week.

That’s the truth. It’s as simple and as brutal as that.

Six unions got to vote in the leadership race – but just one union, Service and Food Workers, actually gave all its members the right to exercise their vote.

The other five unions gave the power to about 100 senior delegates to cast the crucial votes on behalf of those on the factory floor.

Who are these delegates? Who knows. If it wasn’t for Little’s 100 union mates who wielded the power and the final say, Little would have come a distant second in this race.

The Labour system is awful. If you want to do membership voting, then do it as the Greens do it – one member, one vote. Not one union delegate having 30 votes.

This is unprecedented for Labour – 27 of its MPs don’t want Little to be their boss.

Yet leader he is. It’s a perverse outcome that looks farcical. But the process is the process – despite it looking like an ass. It certainly doesn’t seem fair to Robertson, and of course he’s gutted and licking his wounds.

So what to make of Little?

In my time covering politics I found him to be straight-forward, competent, organised, gruff, a little grim, dry and blunt but likeable.

So it’s not all bad. Get Labour back up into the early 30s and it’s game on – that’s MMP.

At 30% you lose less badly. At 35% you can govern if Winston chooses you.

At least Little’s not a trumped-up fake like the last leader and a stuttering mess, like the one before that.

Ouch.

But this is a divided bunch. If I was Little I’d offer the deputy leader’s job to Jacinda Ardern.

They need some Auckland influence in there – and she’s a Robertson loyalist. Little could offer the job to Robertson – but then the leader and deputy are from Wellington and that’s a problem.

He must not offer it to failed leadership contender Nanaia Mahuta for all the obvious reasons. And he must promote new blood like Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash on to the front bench.

I agree Ardern is the logical choice for Deputy. She doesn’t want to be his Deputy, but she is a List MP and a servant of the party. She should be told that she has to take the role.

And what about Robertson? Is he finished? I say no.

He’s promised not to run again for leader – but surely that commitment only lasts for this term.

Robertson, in my view, will always have ambitions to be the leader. But he wants to give Little three years.

However, should Little fail and John Key wins a fourth term, Robertson’s commitment to never stand again means nothing.

Little is now the boss. But don’t write off the apprentice – politics is a long game and Robertson is still running a marathon, not a sprint.

Or will he be Jacinda’s campaign manager next time, rather than vice versa?

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Gower and Trotter on Little’s victory

November 21st, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Patrick Gower writes:

It is the great union robbery – the unions have stolen Labour’s leadership.

The unions have installed their man Andrew Little as Labour’s boss through a backdoor takeover, in what you’d call a perverse outcome. …

You see, only Labour’s six affiliated unions have control over the 20 percent vote for the leadership – Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing (EPMU), Dairy Workers, Meat Workers and Related Trades, Rail and Maritime Transport, Maritime, and Service and Food Workers (SFW).

So it is not actually “the unions” which stole Labour’s leader – it is actually just six private sector unions.

Just six unions out of the 144 in New Zealand is hardly representative.

And the EPMU which Little was of course the boss of, has the most votes for the Labour leadership.

It gets even worse. Only the SFW give their members a vote; the other five let delegates decide for its members.

The union vote is not one person, one vote. It is not democracy – it is a union muscle job.

A few score union delegates got to decide the leadership.

And there’s an example of a Labour leader installed by the unions – his name is Ed Miliband.

Just like Little, Miliband didn’t win the British Labour party membership, and he didn’t win the MPs, but he did win the union vote. And right now, Miliband has terrible poll ratings.

The truth is this: Little won the Labour leadership thanks to a handful of his union mates. That doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t do a good job.

Little could not win the New Plymouth electorate. Little could not win the Labour Party membership. Little could not win the Labour MPs.

All Little could win was his union mates.

Chris Trotter also writes:

If Grant Robertson’s young followers genuinely want to roll back the influence of neoliberalism, both within the Labour Party, and in New Zealand generally, then radically democratising the affiliated unions’ processes of representation would be one of the best ways to do it. 

if the union vote had been open to every union member, rather than just the bosses, it is highly unlikely Little would have won.

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Geddis says Labour results worst ever

November 19th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Andrew Geddis writes:

The only thing worse than electing the wrong person as leader of Labour is electing him by the narrowest of margins, by virtue of the influence of a handful of individuals acting under instructions. 

Labour just made the wrong choice, in the worst possible way.

Obviously, I think that the decision to choose Andrew Little over Grant Robertson was the wrong one however it came about … that’s because Grant is a good friend whom I think will one day make a fantastic Prime Minister of New Zealand. So Andrew Little could be the reincarnation of Jack Kennedy mixed with Bob Hawke by way of Michael Joseph Savage (which he most certainly isn’t) and I’d still be lamenting the Labour Party’s decision to appoint him leader ahead of Grant.

So let’s put aside my personal disappointment at the actual decision that Labour has made and instead look at how it has done so. Because it looks to me like it’s created an almighty cluster&*k.

Andrew explains:

First, Little beat Grant by just over 1% of the weighted votes cast. That’s about as close a margin of victory as you can get, achieved on the third round. So the overall mandate for Little’s leadership is … fragile, at best.

Second, Little lost heavily to Grant in both the Caucus and the Membership vote in every successive round of voting. Little was the first choice to be leader of only four of his colleagues (assuming he voted for himself, that is). Only 14 of 32 backed him as leader over Grant by their third choice – meaning 18 of 32 think Grant is a better person to lead them. And in respect of the membership vote, Little was consistently 10% behind Grant at each stage of the vote.

The thing that gave Little the edge, of course, was his support amongst “affiliates” – which means those unions that still retain membership ties with Labour.

Now, I’m not a knee-jerk anti-union person. I am, and always have been, a member of AUS and then the TEU. I served on the local branch committee for a while. I believe strongly in the need for collective organisation and action to protect the rights and interests of working people.

I also accept that the Labour Party has been (and to a degree remains) the political expression of that need. So I don’t have any sort of problem in principle with the union movement having some sort of guaranteed input into the process of selecting the leader of the Party. Plus, of course, its really only the Labour Party’s business how they do things.

But for all that, as a “concerned observer”, I think that the sight of the Labour Party leader being chosen almost purely because of lopsided support amongst the union organisations is a terrible,terrible one for it.

They have a leader rejected by his colleagues and the party members, but there due to the union vote.

It’s not that 75% of the individual members of all the affiliated unions think Little is a better leader than Grant. It’s instead that 75% of those people that each union allowed to decide the issue plumped for Little ahead of Grant. People who, in the case of (say) the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, basically were told by their leaders that they should vote for the guy who used to be their boss. 

Only one of the six unions allowed their members to vote. The other five had the bosses cast the votes for them. A few score union bosses got to decide the labour party leadership over the wishes of the caucus and the party members.

Try to imagine if the National Party had a leader who had the support of only four of his colleagues. It’s so ridiculous that you can’t even imagine it.

But then imagine if the National Party had a leadership system where the Auckland Chamber of Commerce Board got say 7% of the vote, the Wellington Employers Association Council got 5%, the Federated Farmers Executive got 6% and those three employer and industry groups got to determine the National Party leadership over the wishes of the caucus and/or the membership?

Here’s the real problem for Labour. In a rational party, some senior members or activists would be speaking up and saying “hey our rules have led to us having a leader who failed to win a majority of support from either the caucus or the members, this is a bad look, so we should review the rules”. But no one dares say this in public, even though they are saying it in private.

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What if the unions didn’t decide?

November 18th, 2014 at 5:02 pm by David Farrar

Someone asked me what would the result of the Labour leadership election if the unions bosses didn’t have 20% of the vote. This is pretty easy to calculate as you weight the caucus and the members 50% each. If the union bosses (barely 100 bosses vote in five of the six unions) did not get 20%, the results would have been:

  1. Round 1 – Robertson 41.0%, Parker 22.2%, Little 20.7%, Mahuta 16.2%
  2. Round 2 – Robertson 42.4%, Little 34.2%, Parker 23.4%
  3. Round 3 – Robertson 55.7%, Little 44.3%

So without the unions Little would have been third on first preferences and easily lost to Robertson in the third round.

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Little had only four other Labour MPs vote for him!

November 18th, 2014 at 1:52 pm by David Farrar

Andrew Little has been elected leader, but with the support of only four of his colleagues. That’s half the support David Cunliffe managed!

Full results are here.

Here’s how it went each round

Caucus

  • Round 1 – Robertson 14, Parker 7, Mahuta 6, Little 5
  • Round 2 – Robertson 14, Parker 7, Little 11
  • Round 3 – Robertson 18, Little 14

Members

  • Round 1 – Robertson 38%, Parker 22%, Mahuta 14%, Little 26%
  • Round 2 – Robertson 41%, Parker 25%, Little 34%
  • Round 3 – Robertson 55%, Little 45%

Unions

  • Round 1 – Robertson 19%, Parker 7%, Mahuta 10%, Little 64%
  • Round 2 – Robertson 20%, Parker 9%, Little 71%
  • Round 3 – Robertson 24%, Little 76%

Overall Little beat Robertson by 50.5% to 49.5%. This is a disaster of a result for Labour. Not in terms of Andrew winning, but the way the votes split. The takeouts are:

  1. The new leader was the first choice of only four of his colleagues!!
  2. The new leader wasn’t the preferred choice of the members, barely beating David Parker
  3. The new leader is only there because of the bloc union vote
  4. More Labour MPs thought Nanaia Mahuta would be a better leader than Andrew Little
  5. If only two (or at the most three) faceless EPMU delegates had voted Robertson instead of Little, then Robertson would have been leader

Andrew has the personal ability to do well, but this result makes it much harder for him. To only have four of your colleagues vote for you makes the job of convincing the public to vote for you much harder.

UPDATE:

  • Grant Robertson has said he will never seek the leadership again. However his statement is not a Shermanesque one which leaves wriggle room in future. I think his statement is premature. If he had lost the members vote it would be justified, but Grant was the popular choice of both the members and caucus and if Little fails, he is the logical sucessor.
  • David Parker has said he will refuse the Deputy and Finance portfolios. He says no plans to leave Parliament but I predict he will be gone by 2016.
  • Little will either make Cunliffe Finance spokesperson (which will make him even less popular with his colleagues) or go to Nash or Clark in the next generation
  • Names being bandied for deputy are Mahuta, Sepuloni, Robertson and Ardern
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How the Labour MPs may vote

November 17th, 2014 at 3:57 pm by David Farrar

Have had a number of discussions over the last few days with various Labour people on the leadership. Everyone expects Little will win, but will it be on the first ballot, and how will the members, unions and caucus vote.

Below if my best estimate of where the Labour MPs loyalties lie. However this may not be reflected in the actual vote. With a Little victory highly likely, some Labour MPs may vote tactically and give Little their first preference to minimise any stories on him being elected with little Caucus support.

The preferences appear to be:

Andrew Little

  1. Lees-Galloway
  2. Sepuloni
  3. Cunliffe
  4. Little
  5. Moroney
  6. Rurawhe

David Parker

  1. Davis
  2. Henare
  3. Nash
  4. Curran
  5. O’Connor
  6. Parker
  7. Shearer
  8. Tirikatene

Grant Robertson

  1. Ardern
  2. Clark
  3. Faafoi
  4. Hipkins
  5. Woods
  6. Cosgrove
  7. Robertson
  8. Twyford
  9. Dyson
  10. Goff
  11. Mallard
  12. King

Nanaia Mahuta

  1. Wall
  2. Mahuta
  3. Salesa
  4. Whaitiri
  5. Sio
  6. Williams
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Assessing the Labour Leadership Candidates

November 17th, 2014 at 1:16 pm by David Farrar
Little Mahuta Parker Robertson
Internal Attributes
Unite the caucus Well placed to do so, as few enemies. Cunliffe endorsement did not help him though Would unite the caucus, but against her, not with her Well respected. Would be given a fair go Would have very loyal support from majority of caucus, but resentment from a few
Establish competent Leader’s Office Would recruit mainly from unions which has problems Very unlikely. Has little personal networks, so would leave to his deputy Robertson has huge networks and would attract a very talented staff
Satisfy the activists Most likely to be given support from the activist base Has gone down well with some activists Unlikely to motivate many Would have huge loyalty from many, but also huge resentment from Auckland ones especially
Attract donors Little had a constructive relationship as EPMU head with many businesses and could do okay here. Unlikely to attract any outside Maori organisations Very credible with business and would rebuild finances Unlikely to attract donors unless Cullen and Palmer agree to become party fundraisers for him
Manage the parliamentary team Little has not made a big impression in Parliament, but did well in growing and managing EPMU Unknown Has been a competent deputy who does much of this for the leader Robertson is hugely experienced and would by far be the best parliamentary team leader
Develop and stick to a political strategic plan Little shows signs of this with his campaigning on removing issues that distracted core voters Unknown Generally good at focusing on important issues Robertson tends to forget the bigger issues of the economy, and go after the scandal of the day.
External Attributes
Media appeal Reasonable relationships with journalists No strong relationships with journalists Rather boring Robertson is very close to many in gallery and would get favourable coverage
Match Key in House Little has been solid in the House but never spectacular Did not perform well when on front bench A solid performer in the House but unlikely to bother Key The only Labour MP who can cause trouble for Key
Likeability Rather dour Rather sour Bland Projects likeability – someone you want to spend time with
Hold own in debates Little is a competent debater Unknown, as has rarely been on TV, but did well last time she was on Won’t get a knock out, but won’t stuff up Formidable and tricky
Have economic credibility Little does have some economic credibility from his EPMY days. He was a welcome change from the old style unionists who only striked, and often struck sensible deals with employers Unlikely Mahuta will be seen to have economic credibility Parker has strong economic credibility Robertson’s employment record has been purely public sector which makes economic credibility challenging for him
Appeal to Waitakere Man Little is from provincial NZ, and EPMU work kept him in touch – but proposals like reverse burden of proof in rape go down like cold sick Mahuta could do quite well here – she is down to earth and relatable Too nerdy Too Wellington
Appeal to Maori Little has no special appeal here Mahuta is effectively a Tainui Princess, and well connected and respected No special appeal No special appeal.
Appeal to Pasifika EPMU background can help Mahuta has significant support here No special appeal Sexual orientation is an issue for some
Appeal to unionised workers Little well ahead. No special appeal Wants to increase their retirement age – not popular with union workers Robertson struggles here.
Appeal to urban liberals Little is effectively an urban liberal, but hides it well, so should retain support from them Unlikely to appeal to urban liberals Parker has some appeal Robertson is King of the urban liberals
Appeal to Auckland Little has little profile in Auckland. Would need Ardern as his Deputy if he wins. Unlikely to appeal to Aucklanders Parker has built up some respect in Auckland Robertson seen as alien to Auckland, hence why he named Ardern as his preferred Deputy
Lift Labour to 30% so they lose less badly Little should safely be able to get Labour back to 30% Hard to see Labour becoming more popular with Mahuta as Leader Hard to see Parker doing better than Goff Robertson should safely be able to get Labour back to 30%
Lift Labour to 35% so they can win if Winston will let them Difficult to see Little attracting an extra 10% of the vote Will not happen Will not happen Robertson has an interesting back story (his father etc), very good communications ability and an association with Clark which could bring some former Labour voters back. Make take more than one term but could get Labour back to mid 30s
Lift Labour to 40% so there can be a Labour/Green Government No No No No

So this is my honest opinion of the four candidates. They all have some strengths, and none of them look like they have the potential to be a game changer (Shearer and Cunliffe had the potential to be, they just didn’t manage to do it).

If I was a Labour Party member and wanted to maximise the chances of winning at the next election I’d rank Grant Robertson first. Also even if he doesn’t win, he has the best skill set to rebuild the party organisation team and parliamentary team so they are less dysfunctional – and this would help the leader after him.

My second preference would be Andrew Little. Andrew was hugely impressive as EMPU General Secretary and a pretty good Labour Party President also. However he hasn’t been a star in Parliament. He may rise to the occasion, if given the leadership (which seems likely), but his record in New Plymouth shows his electoral appeal may be limited.

Prior to them both entering Parliament, I had said that Robertson and Little are potential future leaders.

The third preference would be David Parker. He’s a better Deputy than Leader though.

The last preference would be Nanaia Mahuta. I have nothing personal against her, but when she has had front bench opportunities such as being Education Spokesperson, she doesn’t seem to have been highly effective. I suspect her candidacy is more about becoming Deputy Leader.

I expect Andrew Little will be the winner tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if he gets 50% on the first ballot, and if not, how the preferences flow.

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Auckland Pacific Labour ranks Robertson last

November 15th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Auckland Pacific Labour have said:

The Auckland Pacific Sector of the New Zealand Labour Party met last night to discuss and rank the Labour leadership candidates. After much debate and discussion it was carried by a unanimous vote that the leadership candidates be ranked in the following order:

#1 – Nanaia MAHUTA
#2 – Andrew LITTLE
#3 – David PARKER
#4 – Grant ROBERTSON

Rating Robertson last is ridiculous. But fair to say that it looks very difficult for him to win.

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Edwards on Labour and euthanasis

November 13th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Brian Edwards writes:

Iain Lees-Galloway has taken over responsibility for the ‘End of Life Choice Bill’  after its sponsor, Maryan Street, failed to get elected in September. Lees-Galloway is apparently gauging support before deciding whether to put the Bill back on the private members’ bill ballot. It was removed last year under pressure from the Labour leadership who, according to the Herald, “were concerned it could be an election-year distraction or that it could deter conservative voters”. The new Labour leader, whoever that is, could apparently have the deciding voice on the voluntary euthanasia question.

So what did the contenders for that position have to say?

Well, Nanaia Manuta was in favour of reintroducing the bill  because it would show “that Labour would stand up for those difficult conversations that need to be had”.

I thought that was a pretty principled position to take.

Yep.

David Parker, who voted against legalising voluntary euthanasia in 2003, didn’t want to comment till he’d talked to Lees-Galloway.

Non-committal and therefore less satisfactory perhaps.

Grant Robertson and Andrew Little both support voluntary euthanasia, but neither considered it a priority at the moment. The fairly clear subtext of their replies was that it was a vote-loser and that a party that had polled 25% in September couldn’t afford to be seen supporting unpopular policies.

I’d call that unprincipled.    

So are Grant and Andrew saying they would not have supported same sex marriage going to a vote if it was less popular?

There are precedents galore for this sort of thinking of course, for the abandonment of principle, of forward-thinking, enlightened or socially responsible policies and platforms because they’re unlikely to win or more likely to lose your party votes. Leadership gives way to “followship”.

It’s a depressing view not only of our politicians but also of us, the voters. Are we really so selfish, so venal, so incapable of persuasion that the towel has to be thrown in before the contestants are even in the ring? Have we no admiration for those who stand up for their principles against the seeming odds?

I say “seeming” odds, because the odds can never be totally accurately predicted. But, with the exception of Nanaia Mahuta, these prospective Labour Leaders are betting on the electorate not being motivated by anything other than unprincipled self-interest. That’s pretty bloody offensive really and were I a member of the Labour Party, which I’m not, I wouldn’t vote for anyone who thought so little of me.

Harsh words, but true.

Judy and I worked for Helen Clark from June 1996 to November 2008. She made mistakes of course but she was willing to espouse unpopular policies when she thought it was the right thing to do. In the process she took a lot of flak, but the sky didn’t fall in. She still got 3 terms. She wasn’t always loved, but she was greatly admired and respected.

With the exception of Nanaia Mahuta I’m not finding much to admire or respect in this lot. Their core philosophy appears to have everything to do with giving the punters what (they think) they want, and tossing out anything that doesn’t satisfy that principle.

There seems to be no excitement at all over who will win the leadership contest – unlike last time, when there was genuine excitement and interest.

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The free flights for the leadership contest

October 17th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The four Labour leadership contenders have defended using taxpayer funded flights for their campaigns, saying most of the other costs will have to come out of their own pockets.

The four — Andrew Little, Nanaia Mahuta, David Parker and Grant Robertson — were at Labour Party HQ this morning to sign a Code of Conduct and go through the campaign rules.

They can use the MPs’ unlimited air travel allowance to travel around the campaign — but have to pay for any other costs themselves including hotels, taxis and meals.

Mr Robertson said the use of air travel was within the rules. “[The taxpayer] is not picking up the tab for the contest. We are obeying the rules we have around airline travel. Everything else is our own cost.”

Mr Little said the contest did involve meeting with the public, which was part of an MPs’ job.

They’re meeting people to get them to vote for them – ie campaigning.

I think it is fine for MPs to get travel to party conferences, just as they also get free travel to speak to rotary clubs, business conferences, union conferences and the like.

But this is different. This is travelling to events which are specifically to get people there to vote for you. There is a direct personal benefit, rather than an indirect political benefit.

They should pay for their own airfares.

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Vernon Small on the Labour circus

October 16th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Vernon Small writes at Stuff:

By rights the political debate should be focused on the Government’s handling of two things.

How does it meet its self- imposed need to do something alongside traditional allies and friends in Iraq and Syria without getting too deeply embroiled in the war against Islamic State?

And how will John Key make a dent in the number of children in poverty, given the Government’s pre-eminent focus on work as the best route out of poverty? …

But then along came Andrew Little, Nanaia Mahuta, David Shearer and the whole Labour three-ringed circus to demand its place in the limelight.

Don’t forget David Parker who wasn’t standing and then did stand.

Just what Shearer, a former leader, hoped to achieve with his frustration-download is hard to tell.

He seemed to have an irony bypass attacking David Cunliffe, his supporters, the union voting strength and even Labour’s brand – all in the name of a call for party unity.

He probably has every right to feel aggrieved at Cunliffe’s behaviour at the 2012 annual conference, though Cunliffe continues to deny any involvement in a coup or intent to undermine him.

But to argue Cunliffe should have stayed in the race for leader in order to be defeated, as part of a scenario that would take him out of contention in perpetuity?

It all smacked of a stake through the heart – of taking revenge a kilometre too far.

He was right that Cunliffe’s backers in the blogosphere were off the wall, painting anyone but Cunliffe as a dangerous conservative running dog in harness with the mainstream media.

Danyl McL also has an opinion on how the Labour-aligned blogs are doing more harm than good to the left.

Also, Labour’s Maori caucus is asserting itself as a significant proportion of Labour’s reduced 32-person caucus.

Party sources say it is seeking greater autonomy within the caucus, and is even arguing for a share of research and other resources.

Oh that would be fun. A semi-autonomous caucus within a caucus. So if they formed Government, would they also be a semi-autonomous government within the Government?

 

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The other five affiliate unions should follow the SFWU lead

October 15th, 2014 at 10:58 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Shearer said the people who walked away from Labour were middle New Zealand – “white blokes” – and Labour needed to win them back.

He also believed every worker in the unions should vote for the leadership rather than delegates casting affiliated unions’ votes, which count for 20 per cent of the vote deciding the leader.

“If we are going to have affiliates contributing to the leadership it should be one person one vote,” he said.

“That’s democracy … not two dozen people voting on behalf of 4000.”

The most powerful delegates are the EPMU ones. Only 35 of them voted on behalf of probably 30,000 or so affiliate members.

In the last leadership election only 149 delegates over five unions decided the votes for the union. Only the SFWU gave all members a vote.

If the Labour Party itself decided that all members should vote, rather than just the caucus bosses, then why not apply the same to the unions?

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Mahuta stands for the leadership

October 15th, 2014 at 12:23 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour’s Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta will contest the Labour Leadership.

Ms Mahuta said late this afternoon she had made the decision to stand after giving the matter serious consideration.

“This decision has been made with the knowledge that if the party reviews the election outcome, we can learn from the base of support that was demonstrated across Maori electorates in South Auckland and amongst Pacific and ethnic communities.”

Ms Mahuta’s announcement brings the number of contenders to replace David Cunliffe to four with former Deputy leader David Parker, Andrew Little and Grant Robertson also in the running.

Her candidacy announcement at 4.30pm came just before the deadline of 5pm.

Cynically I think this is more about a play for the deputy leadership, or at a minimum ensuring she remains a front bencher.

However it may also be as a result of complaints that all the contenders had been middle aged white men.

There are seven Maori MPs in caucus. If she picks all of them up, then that gets her over 20% of caucus. But hard to see here getting many votes from members or unions.

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Shearer says Cunliffe should quit politics

October 14th, 2014 at 2:11 pm by David Farrar

I think we are starting to see the reality of life in Labour. One former leader is telling another to quit politics. The Herald reports:

Mr Shearer said he would have preferred it for the new leader’s sake if Mr Cunliffe had stayed in the race and lost.

“I think it would have been easier for whoever wins if he had stood and lost. It would be a cleaner break for whoever takes over. His followers undermined Phil Goff and myself and I think he continues to be a presence that will make it difficult for a new leader.”

He said if Mr Cunliffe had lost this would have sent a clear message to his supporters, rather than let them have the impression he could have won if he hadn’t withdrawn. He was also disappointed with Mr Cunliffe’s decision to stay on as an MP. “It would be easier for the new leader if he decided to move on.”

It was a sentiment echoed by several other MPs, although none would be named.

To quote Lady Macbeth – Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!

Cunliffe has pointed out:

Mr Cunliffe pointed out Mr Shearer was also a former leader.

“I think that’s an unfortunate thing for him to say and it belies my long-term loyalty to the party and caucus.”

But Shearer has only been an MP for one and a bit terms. Cunliffe has had five full terms. And I think Phil Goff and David Shearer have a different idea of what loyalty looks like.

“It’s about making sure we set ourselves up for the future so the new leader doesn’t have the same experience I had.”

He had been white-anted by Cunliffe’s supporters when he was leader and did not want the same thing to happen to the new leader.

If Parker or Robertson wins, it is inevitable I’d say that they will also face undermining.

“The people who had attacked himself and Mr Goff were mostly anonymous, Mr Shearer said.

“There are certainly some who’s names I think I know, but these are people who sit behind darkened screens and blog and undermine people.

And several of them now work in the Labour Leader’s office – which explains why so many are so unhappy.

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Cunliffe pulls out

October 13th, 2014 at 3:16 pm by David Farrar

This afternoon David Cunliffe announced he is pulling out of the contest for the Labour Party leadership, and is endorsing Andrew Little. This should boost Little’s chances considerably and may have David Parker regretting his entry into the race, as I suspect if Little wins, that Cunliffe will be his Finance Spokesperson.

This is obviously the end of the road for David Cunliffe’s prime ministerial ambitions. Cunliffe had many political skills, but being able to lead his caucus was not one of them.

It is worth reflecting though that his political career should be judged on more than his 15 months or so as Labour Leader.

He was one of Helen Clark’s better performing Cabinet Ministers. I’ve said many times that I thought he was an excellent Communications and ICT Minister. Also his reign as Health Minister was relatively successful, with the exception of his sacking of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board.

While I would have disagreed with many of his policies, I always thought that David Cunliffe could have been an excellent Labour Finance Minister. While he has gone left to win over the activist base, he does have a rare (in Labour) understanding of the business world and private sector.

While Cunliffe had many skills, there was no better display of his weaknesses that on election night, and in the weeks following. Launching his campaign to stay leader on the night of the worst election result for Labour in 90 years was incredibly dumb. And then declaring he won’t resign to try and get caucus to sack him, and then resigning, and trying to cling on despite barely 20% of caucus backing him – well it was a sad end to a career which deserved better.

It will be interesting to see what portfolio Cunliffe ends up under the new leader, whoever that may be. Finance is the logical pick, but I can’t see that happening with Robertson or Parker.

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How have the leadership contenders gone in their electorates?

October 13th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

I thought it would be interesting to look at how the four (if Shearer stands) Labour leadership contenders have gone in their respective electorates. This may give some idea of their personal appeal, and also their ability to convince people to party vote Labour.

So I looked at the changes in their local party and electorate votes from 2008 to 2014 (or for Shearer from 2009 for his electorate vote).

This is what has happened:

Party Vote

  • David Cunliffe (New Lynn) -4.2%
  • Andrew Little (New Plymouth) -10.3%
  • Grant Robertson (Wellington Central) -10.7%
  • David Shearer (Mt Albert) -13.1%

So New Lynn has actually held up best on the party vote, compared to 2008. The other three electorates have all lost more than 10%.

Electorate Vote

  • Grant Robertson (Wellington Central) +9.8%
  • David Cunliffe (New Lynn) +0.5%
  • David Shearer (Mt Albert) -4.8%
  • Andrew Little (New Plymouth) -15.9%

This indicates that Grant Robertson is very good at increasing his personal vote, but not so the party vote. Cunliffe has held steady, Shearer has declined a bit (but from a by-election high) while Little got 16% less than the former Labour MP in New Plymouth.

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Will there be five?

October 11th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Nominations close on Tuesday and it appears increasingly likely acting leader David Parker will be a last-minute entrant.

A group of MPs, understood to include Kelvin Davis, have been pushing for him to put his name in although yesterday he again said his position had not changed. …

Former Labour leader David Shearer is also still considering a tilt. Yesterday he echoed concerns also expressed by Damien O’Connor that the leadership contest meant the candidates had to appeal to Labour members – but that did not necessarily translate into appealing to the wider voter base.

Little and Robertson are both on the left of the party. Cunliffe in reality is more centrist but went left to gain the leadership. Therefore all three candidates are fighting in the same space.

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Robertson’s plan

October 11th, 2014 at 9:04 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Grant Robertson has made his pitch for the party leadership, signalling a crackdown on banks, supermarkets and power companies and a plan to rebuild the party.

As he moved to counter the momentum building behind former party president Andrew Little’s bid, Robertson formally filed his nomination yesterday, signed symbolically by Maori MP Rino Tirikatene and Mana MP Kris Faafoi.

He is expected to launch his campaign in Auckland next week aiming to reverse the 2011 leadership launches where David Cunliffe overshadowed him.

As rumours swirled in the party that Cunliffe may withdraw, given Little’s hit on his union base, Robertson yesterday promised ‘‘a three-year programme to rebuild and reconnect the Labour Party as the driving force for progressive change’’.

The rumours over Cunliffe withdrawing have been around for weeks, but I’ll believe it when it happens.

But he defended key policies, saying Little had ‘‘possibly got ahead of himself’’ by questioning plans for a higher pension age, centralised wholesale power prices and a capital gains tax.

It’s a good thing, not a bad thing, if the different contenders put forward different policy programmes.

He endorsed aspects of former MP Shane Jones’ criticisms of supermarkets as one way to address issues that mattered to voters.

‘‘New Zealanders pay way too much for food  …  in a country where we produce enormous amounts of food. We need to look at supermarkets in the sense of the duopoly and what needs to change in the Commerce Act and how do we protect consumers,’’ he said.

foodinflation

I remind people of this graph, when Labour start talking food prices.

Low pay in supermarkets was also a problem.

‘‘We say to the supermarkets, ‘you’re in our society this is how we want it to be’.’’ 

Does anyone else see the problem here? In one breath you say food prices are too high and in the next that you want to increase costs for supermarkets.

He said Labour did not make the argument for lifting the minimum wage, which he agreed with.

‘‘But when he went into workplaces  …  you could see the workers there were worried that their boss couldn’t afford the minimum wage.’’ 

Smart workers.

But Labour first needed to build confidence and lift its vote to 40 per cent. It was easy for National to run a scare campaign about the Greens or Internet-Mana when Labour was on only 25 per cent, he said.

Yep. People don’t worry that much about the coalition partners when the main party is strong, but when the main party is weak, then it is more of an issue.

Lifting the vote from 25% to 40% is no small thing. That’s convincing 360,000 New Zealanders to change their vote to Labour.

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Robertson is nominated

October 10th, 2014 at 1:49 pm by David Farrar

The choice of nominees is interesting. Kris was a strong Shearer supporter and Rino is a member of the Maori caucus, and voted against same sex marriage. While one can read too much into these things, I suspect the choices were made to show Grant can unify and appeal widely.

I noted that it is dated today. I do wonder if it was actually signed around six months ago? :-)

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Little puts policies on the table

October 10th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Little signalled a major shift in direction if he won the leadership, including the likely ditching of unpopular policies such as raising the pension age.

At a press conference today, the former union boss also signalled a rethink of a capital gains tax, power reforms and free doctor visits for over-65s.

Little said the policies were raised constantly on the campaign trail as either scary or unaffordable.

Most Kiwis were pragmatic enough to realise when some policies seemed “too good to be true”, he said.

His approach could pitch him against finance spokesman and acting leader David Parker, who advocated strongly for Labour’s policy mix.

Little is right to say their policies were part of their failure. Kudos to him for being the only candidate willing to say so.

Parker is the architect of three of those policies, and it will be fascinating to see what he now does.

In terms of the four policies, here’s my views on them.

  • Power reforms – this one is near barking mad. If any one policy scared the entire business community off Labour, this was it. A de facto nationalisation of the industry, with the state setting the price for all generation. Even the guy whose work they claim it is based on, came out and said it was crackers (in more polite terms). This policy must go for them to be credible.
  • Super age to 67. Personally I think this is one of their better policies. But Little is right that there was a backlash from union members about it. Blue collar workers saw it as Labour wanting them to work two years more than previously. However it is fiscally the entirely correct thing to do. The motivation for the policy was to embarrass Key over his silly pledge not to raise it, but they’ve tried that twice now and failed. Also Labour can’t govern without Winston, and Winston will never agree to it, so why take the flak for it?
  • Capital Gains Tax. Apart from being riddled with exemptions, the problem with their CGT policy is that it was one of several new taxes, and NZers saw it as Labour just wanting to tax families and businesses more. I shouldn’t give Labour free advice, but what they should do is copy the Greens with their carbon tax, and say yes we will have a CGT, but we will reduce income and company tax to compensate. This way it is about a fairer tax system, not about taking more money off families and businesses. That would neutralise the issue. However it would mean Labour not having all the extra money for spending.
  • Free doctors visits for over 65s. I don’t think that was a particularly unpopular policy for Labour – just a cynical one that didn’t work.

As I said I think it is a good thing to have a leadership candidate campaign on specific policy changes, as it gives members a chance to vote on them.

Little’s performance in New Plymouth may be an issue however. Not only has did his electorate vote in 2014 drop 12% from what it was in 2011 (and is 28% lower than Duynhoven in 2008), but Labour’s party vote in New Plymouth dropped 9% in 2014 and is 28% lower than in 2008. In absolute terms 2,954 fewer people in New Plymouth voted Labour in 2014 than 2008 and 4,646 fewer people voted Little than Duynhoven.

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And Little makes three

October 9th, 2014 at 12:28 pm by David Farrar

Andrew Little has announced:

I have decided to contest the Labour Party leadership.

There are three immediate issues to deal with: creating greater cohesion across the caucus, rebuilding the relationship between caucus and the Party and, most importantly getting the process under way to listen to the voters who have abandoned us.

I have demonstrated skills from my time as a union secretary and former Party president in challenging the status quo and lifting organisational performance.

Andrew has a reasonable chance of winning the contest.

If he can avoid being the lowest polling candidate on first preferences, then he is likely to pick up most of the second preferences from Cunliffe or Robertson supporters.

So Andrew has two challenges, to allow him to win:

  1. Gaining enough first preferences to get him to at least second place.
  2. Having enough caucus votes so that if he wins the overall ballot, he doesn’t face Cunliffe’s problem of being seen not to be backed by his own caucus

I think he has a reasonable chance of achieving the first. I would have thought he would take votes off Cunliffe mainly, especially the union votes.

The bigger challenge is getting a credible number of caucus voters. Very roughly (have not yet done exact count), Grant has around half the caucus, Cunliffe a quarter and a quarter don’t want either (sort of Camp Shearer people). Even if Little gets six or seven of the ones who don’t want either, that is not enough to be credible. Camp Robertson is fairly solid for him. So again his best strategy will be to win two or three Cunliffe caucus members over so he can get to 10 or so.

We’ve yet to see if David Parker enters the race. I’ll do more detailed analysis once the final contenders are known.

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Small on Labour leadership

October 9th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Vernon Small writes:

Cunliffe cannot possibly be the answer. Leading the party to a historic defeat is one reason.

Having not much more than a handful of first preferences in the caucus ought to be another.

The lack of any public (as opposed to party activist) enthusiasm for him is a third.

A return to Shearer ought to be unthinkable. He has the back story of bravery, can do the statesman thing and is formidable on foreign affairs.

But he still has not mastered the fatal hesitancy when dealing with other topics that dogged him through his leadership.

Like Cunliffe he would mark a return to the past.

Stuart Nash and Kelvin Davis have also been mooted. But they are too inexperienced and come from too far back in the caucus.

They may be the dream of a faction of the caucus, notably the ones who were enamoured of Jones, but neither is a viable choice at this stage.

So who?

There seems to be a growing expectation then, that whoever stands Robertson will win.

BUT Robertson also comes with a problem. Not his gay-ness, though for some it is a still an issue. Some in the party are concerned that conservative voters, especially Pasifika ones in South Auckland, would rebel and may even start their own party if Robertson is chosen.

New Zealanders are likely to be more tolerant than many in Labour and the unions think, but it is playing on some minds.

A bigger difficulty for him, though, is not caucus, confidence or competence . . . it’s speaking to voters in an everyday way, stripped of platitudes and bureau-speak. If a consensus does emerge it may be around him, and that may be the safest option.

Labour can ill-afford another mis-start. But he has work to do to present a coherent “vision” for the party and the country in a way that speaks to everyone.

Grant’s biggest challenge will be convincing New Zealanders that someone who has never spent a day working in the private sector (well post study anyway) can lead a Government with competent economic management.

But if we are to suffer a primary race, is there a third player who could energise it and offer a genuine alternative to a hackneyed run-off?

David Parker has been there before and pulled out, but his speech to the Labour conference was a surprise package that had many in the party sitting up and taking notice.

He manages to espouse Labour values while steering away from identity politics.

There is a lot of pressure on Parker to stand. He’s pulled out or refused twice before.

Andrew Little – a former union boss and party president – could energise the troops, would be an easy sell to the unions and speaks to the Left and Right of the party from Labour’s solar plexus.

He is also respected in business circles and that can only be good for fund-raising.

But at this stage he would probably draw fewer first preference votes in caucus than Cunliffe.

Little could potentially win, but if has the support of just five MPs or so, then he risks also looking like a leader without his team behind him.

So the best outcome for Labour? Robertson as leader, with caveats.

Little, Parker and Jacinda Ardern providing the deputy, finance and social policy leadership.

The only thing missing from that is a prominent role for any Maori and Pasifika MPs to reflect their importance and loyalty to Labour.

Two at least must be on the front bench when the dust settles after the leadership race.

Davis and Sepuloni?

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Little for Leader

October 7th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Andrew Little is talking up his connections outside the Labour caucus, amid signals he may stand for the Labour leadership.

The former Labour Party president who has twice failed to win the seat of New Plymouth, was confirmed as an MP on Saturday only after a dramatic swing in special votes away from the Government.

But Little, a former head of the EPMU, said that in the hours since the election result was finalised he had been “prevailed upon by a large number of people” to consider nominating for the party leadership.

While saying that Labour should ideally reflect on its poor election result before a leadership contest, Little talked up his broad connections.

“I know the party because I’ve been party president, in terms of my union work I . . . continue to have a lot of contact with the corporate sector, with working people, a whole range of people. It’s those networks we need to get out to,” Little told TVNZ’s Q+A.

Andrew is a credible and strong contender for the leadership. He is right that a lot of members and activists are saying they want more than two candidates, as the contest risks turning into a referendum on who is to blame – the leader or the caucus.

The Cunliffe and Robertson factions have little time for each other. If Little can gain enough support to not be the lowest polling candidate, he could then pick up second preferences from the candidate eliminated and have a decent chance of winning.

Having a former union boss as the Labour leader, would of course entrench the perception that Labour is beholden to sectional interests, rather than the national interest. This is part of why they got 25%.

But on the positive side, he is in a better position than Cunliffe or Robertson to unify the party.

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This time around Labour bans secret trusts

October 4th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour will tighten the rules around donations for its leadership contest to ensure there is no repeat of the use of trusts, such as that used by David Cunliffe in the first run-off, and any donations of more than $500 will still have to be publicly revealed.

Labour’s new leader will be announced on November 18 after members and union delegates vote following a three-week campaign during which the contestants will travel the country to woo party members. Nominations to compete for the job close in 12 days.

The party is redrafting its rules of conduct for the contest – including donation and spending rules. General secretary Tim Barnett said those rules would be tightened – including banning the use of trusts to hide donors’ identities such as that used by Mr Cunliffe last time.

Not often a party has to change its rules, to stop the (former) leader from using a secret trust to hide donors!

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Will Little, Shearer or Nash run?

October 3rd, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The race to be Labour’s leader may no longer be a two-way contest, with Stuart Nash said to be seriously considering a tilt at the top job.

The newly elected Napier MP is biding his time to see if former union boss Andrew Little will throw his hat in the ring. Little’s political future hangs in the balance until tomorrow, when the official election results are declared.

If Little, a former EPMU president, did make it back to Parliament on the list, and decided to enter the primary contest to choose the leader, Nash would not run, a source said.

Nash had earlier ruled it out, saying it was too soon for him.

An insider said he backed away as the caucus waited to see if David Cunliffe would resign and leave Grant Robertson to run unchallenged.

“[He] didn’t want to be the one to trigger a leadership battle that the party had no appetite for.”

But sources say he is reconsidering as the rivalry between Cunliffe and Robertson has turned increasingly bitter. “This is the last thing our party needs, two people going hammer and tongs at each other. It will just turn off New Zealand,” one source said.

Nash is being lobbied hard by Maori and Pasifika members of the party, who believe neither of the two declared contenders can unite the divided factions.

A wildcard option, Nash, 47, represents a break from the rivalries that have torn the party apart in the last three years.

A Cunliffe vs Robertson contest risks being a who is to blame for the loss referendum – the leader or the caucus. Having more than two contenders may focus it more on the future than the past.

It’s not known if the possible nomination of his old boss David Shearer would change his decision. Shearer is still undecided and did not return calls yesterday.

In his Napier electorate yesterday, Nash said his status had not changed. “At this point, I won’t be seeking the leadership of the party.”

The new leader will be installed by November, with the party’s council setting the timetable for the runoff. Nominations will close on October 14, followed by 14 hustings meetings around the country.

Party members, the 32 MPs and affiliated unions all get a say and the result of the vote will be announced on November 18.

I’m picking up a lot of disillusionment among Labour members. I would predict that the number of members who vote will be well down on their last leadership election. This will make the relative power of union votes even more powerful.

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