Watkins on the path ahead

October 11th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

Housing changes signalled by Key’s Cabinet reshuffle point the way. Budget 2015 is likely to see a big shift in resources away from Housing New Zealand to third-party providers like The Salvation Army and Presbyterian Support Services for the provision of social housing.
The aim is to boost the availability of social housing, minus any ideological hang-ups about who provides it, and divest the State over time of a housing portfolio that is growing more decrepit by the year and fails to meet demand in areas of highest need.
I don’t care who owns it. I care about if housing is available to the right people, in the right areas, in the right sizes for an affordable price.
Helen Clark’s mistake in being too slow to rejuvenate her caucus left a very deep impression on Key. He has been far more proactive, creating an expectation that there is no room in the caucus for seat warmers.
The departure of a slew of National MPs at the last election is evidence of his more ruthless approach, as is his approach to Cabinet reshuffles.
For the first time that anyone can remember Key has made a practice of demoting ministers for performance issues, rather than the more traditional route of sacking minister’s only when they have transgressed.  This has given him room to constantly renew his Cabinet. Key rang the changes with a reshuffle which he hopes will mitigate the effects of third-termitis.
Key keeps reshuffling his Cabinet while Labour keeps reshuffling their leader :-)
The big unknown is the Green Party. They have ruled themselves out of any deal with National, but being hitched so firmly to Labour has been their curse.
The choice for the Greens now seems stark – either supplant Labour as the major Opposition party. Or position themselves as a permanent party of coalition with Governments of the Left or the Right.
That is pretty much their choices. Even when Labour wins power, they may shut the Greens out again, in order to get a centrist party on board.

Watkins on the state of the parties

August 2nd, 2014 at 8:07 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins look at the state of the parties now the House has risen:


Prime Minister John Key and his Government defy convention and are more popular now than they were on election night 2011. 

Heading into the campaign, National is polling in the stratosphere, which, perversely, means it could  lose if complacency takes root and its voters don’t bother to turn up. 

But looking like a done deal to win the election has some advantages, particularly when it comes to getting businesses to open their chequebooks. 

National starts  with a huge war chest and a slick campaign team that knows how to win elections.


Still only part-way through the revolution imposed on the caucus by the grassroots, Labour has been too busy warring with itself to take the fight to National. 

It has plenty of foot soldiers and a plan to mobilise the vote in  areas like South Auckland, but it is not clear whether the grassroots are motivated enough to give the plan any grunt.  

Labour’s poor polling has also turned the focus of many MPs inward to their  survival in previously safe seats that could turn if the tide continues to go out, meaning the crucial party-vote message is not getting through. 

We hear, meanwhile, that money is tight, though it is not clear whether that’s because party president Moira Coatsworth has failed to knock on enough doors or because those doors are firmly closed. 

The secret fear that keeps Labour MPs awake at night is an old-fashioned rout.

I think those doors are closed.

The Greens 

The Greens’ leaders, Russel Norman and Metiria Turei, are more match-ready than any of their allies in Opposition. 

They also have a strong team.  The Greens have some of the most talented and energetic people in Parliament working for them. 

Never short of creative capital, they are noted for running slick campaigns, though their  Love New Zealand billboards may have missed the mark.  

A lot of work has gone into matching the creative side with a better-run effort on the ground this election. 

The biggest threat to the Greens is being starved of oxygen by the likely focus on smaller parties like Internet Mana, because of the Dotcom factor, and NZ First,  through its potential importance to National.

NZ First

Winston Peters had plenty of fire in his belly when he launched his comeback on the 2011 campaign trail.

Motivated by pride and thoughts of revenge, he was a formidable and indefatigable opponent.

But did those three years of  fishing and relaxing in his semi-retirement  give Peters a taste of what he has been missing since his return to Parliament? 

Peters will have to scrap hard to raise his party above the 5 per cent threshold yet again. 

Now knocking 70, the Lazarus of New Zealand politics must be wondering whether it is all worth  it.

The NZ First Party list will be interesting.


Watkins on Cunliffe

July 19th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

Private enmity rarely trumps personal ambition. If Cunliffe had delivered on the promise of a more sure-footed leadership, a more organised Opposition, and a clearer direction, the doubters would have become converts.

But Cunliffe has often been his own worst enemy. He has been too loose with details too often and he has tried to style his leadership around American and British-style political oratory. In the New Zealand context, where we are used to our politicians being of the plain Jane variety, there is a fine line between soaring oratory and coming across as fake.

Can Cunliffe use the final few weeks to turn things around? He has to use them to embark on a massive charm offensive with the New Zealand public.

Policy is not the problem. Labour has released a wealth of policy which shows it has a credible alternative plan for government. But voters either don’t know or don’t like David Cunliffe.

Winning now comes down to one simple recipe. Cunliffe has to show them that he is someone they can like and trust.

That is possible, but it takes time. His biggest opportunity is probably the leaders debates, but I suspect he’ll go very aggressive and try and paint Key as an uncaring rich prick, which ironically may hurt him more.

The other issue is that after 15 years he hasn’t been able to convince most of his colleagues to like or trust him, so can he get the public to do the same in 63 days?

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Hosking and Watkins on Labour

July 5th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Mike Hosking writes:

I bet Labour wishes it wasn’t election year.

Or if it has to be election year, I bet Labour wishes it was January again and they could start all over.

Labour’s in a mess.

They look in no shape at all to compete, far less win an election.

Up until about now I’ve been running the line that’s generally run in election year when it comes to polls and predictions.

The line is that, “there’s still a lot of water to go under the bridge”, the line is, “a week is a long time in politics”, the line is, “the polls will tighten”.

Well as we sit here now this morning I feel less and less of that is true.

It looks increasingly possible that a lot of what appears might happen, actually will happen, even though it’s July and the vote’s in September.

One of the things I think will happen is that Labour won’t break 30 per cent and quite possibly will do worse than that.

And Hosking says they are mainly responsible:

But as much as they will hate hearing this, much of their problem is of their own making. The trick at least in part to political success is giving people what they want. And quotas on lists, more tax, stopping people cutting up trees that are blown over, isn’t it.

And that’s before we get to Trevor Mallard and his moa. How inexplicable is that? No one of that experience raises something that nutty, this close to a poll, in a party with this much trouble, without knowing what they’re doing. And what he’s doing is taking the piss. I could’ve seen past it if Trevor closed it down, said nothing, apologised, put it down to a mad moment.

But he took my Seven Sharp colleague Jehan Casinader into the bush, and talked about what sized moa he would like to see, and what sort of noise they’d make. He looked like someone who’d been let out on day release.

Tracy Watkins also touches on the moa:

Labour needed Trevor Mallard this week like it needed a hole in the head.

Mallard’s blurt about bringing Moa back from the dead was a gift to National who gloried in the treasure trove of one-liners about dinosaurs and extinction.

Ironically, Mallard’s grand Moa plan coincided with a morning tea shout to mark him and Annette King celebrating three decades in Parliament.

Even Mallard’s Labour colleagues couldn’t resist the Jurassic Park comparisons.

Bizarrely, there was also a school of thought that Mallard might actually be a genius because people were finally talking about Labour.

That must surely be the definition of clutching at straws, but it is symptomatic of the trough Labour has found itself in that generating any sort of chatter round the water cooler – even when it invites ridicule – is an improvement.

I encourage Trevor to keep it up!

Labour certainly can’t be blamed for going into the election without a plan to put to voters.

Its economic strategy is far-reaching, including a capital gains tax to smooth out the peaks and troughs in housing, monetary policy reform to address currency pressures, raising the pension age to address the long-term sustainability of government finances, and compulsory KiwiSaver to mimic Australia’s hugely successful scheme.

The policy has been deliberately crafted to show that Labour is capable of making some tough choices and to underscore its fiscal credentials.

But National has done such a number on Labour’s economic credibility that many voters still don’t trust it with taxpayer money.

Labour doesn’t help itself when it tries to attack National as spendthrift for running up debt and deficits.

Given that the global financial crisis and Canterbury earthquakes are still fresh in everyone’s minds Labour ‘s attack lines just come across as sly and dishonest.

Their attacks on National for having six years of deficits are bizarre. Every single decision to restrain spending by National, was vigorously attacked by Labour – and then six years later they claim they would have got out of deficit faster. That’s why they have no credibility – they treat the public as idiots.

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Watkins on Labour’s pessimism

February 22nd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

Scratch beneath the bravado  in Labour these days and you will find a pessimist.

Blame it on the weather or a shortened barbecue season, but Labour MPs seem already to be doubting the prospect of a Labour win.

Some of them are now talking up a two election strategy. That they increase their vote enough in 2014 so they can win in 2017. So in fact their strategy is to lose less badly.

The latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll shows National is as popular as ever after six years in power. Labour will be hoping  a One News-Colmar Brunton poll due out this weekend shows a different trend. But the muted response to the Fairfax poll suggests it was not far off the mark from Labour’s own polling.

Even Left-wing blogs and the likes of columnist Chris Trotter, torch bearer for David Cunliffe’s leadership, have started writing off the prospects of a Labour win.

Some of that may be self serving. Many of the party’s activists believe the revolution, that began with the rule change giving the membership a deciding vote in the leadership, is only half done.

Their fulminating may be as much about fomenting a wider backlash against the likes of Phil Goff and Trevor Mallard, Labour’s so-called ‘‘old guard’’, who are resisting pressure to bow out despite leading the group of MPs who were outright antagonistic about the prospect of Cunliffe as leader.

But this a dangerous time for Labour. Once a belief takes root that an election is unwinnable it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It seems too soon yet for that to have happened within Labour.  But Cunliffe may be discovering the limits of running a caucus of which at least half was never more than  lukewarm about his leadership.

 A good poll would have united the caucus behind him. Conversely, one bad poll was all it was ever going to take for those who doubted Mr Cunliffe’s leadership to feel vindicated.  That was always the risk Labour’s activist base took in imposing a leader on the caucus.

The problem for Labour is that ‘‘I told you so’’ doesn’t win elections.  Nor does it help  heal a divided caucus.

The activists blame the old guard. The old guard blame what they claim is the “B” team who got promoted and have been invisible. The staff are jumping ship. It is not a happy place.

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Watkins on Labour’s shambles

February 1st, 2014 at 6:42 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes at Stuff:

This week Cunliffe had his own ‘‘show me the money’’ moment. 

Labour’s $500 million dollar “Best Start” package should have put National on the spot over its own support for new parents.

But what unfolded instead was a shambles over which parents would qualify for the $60 a week baby bonus. That succeeded only in giving National a platform from which to erode confidence both in the package and Labour’s fiscal credibility.

It is tempting to think the policy fell victim to Labour’s desire to dress it up as something other than its 2011 campaign promise to extend the $60-a-week in work tax credit to beneficiaries.

That policy was hugely popular within Labour’s activist base but deeply unpopular among the so-called ‘‘battlers’’ Labour spent most of its 2011 campaign talking about.

Broadening that policy by extending it to households earning up to $150,000 a year makes it more politically palatable among the middle-income nesters. But by years two and three of the baby bonus, the rules around eligibility are squarely pitched at beneficiary households. 

The extension to paid parental leave helps sweeten that pill among working couples. But Cunliffe’s omission of the fact they would not also receive the baby bonus for the first six months while they were receiving paid parental leave was a mistake.

In Key’s words, it looked tricky.

And their advertisement implied that you would get both.

Architect of the policy was Labour’s welfare spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern, but she was not on hand later in the week when Cunliffe fumbled again over detail of the policy.

Finance spokesman David Parker has been strangely absent from the debate, meanwhile. 

Looking back at the days of Helen Clark and Michael Cullen, it is hard not to imagine the former finance minister stepping in to monster his opponents on the fiscal detail when necessary.

I think David Parker was too busy trying to stop David Clark banning Facebook!

Labour’s front bench will be demanding a post mortem on what went wrong. 

Cunliffe may have put the cart before the horse in announcing a big ticket package before opening the books on Labour’s alternative budget.

In an election which will hinge on economic credibility, Labour has not yet  found a way to neutralise National’s narrative that it is the more prudent fiscal  manager.

Labour’s problem is that it has opposed pretty much every single decision of fiscal restraint taken in the last five years.

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

John Armstrong writes:

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

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

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

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

Tracy Watkins also calls it ruthless:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Herald editorial approves:

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

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

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Watkins on TPP

December 1st, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins at Stuff writes:

A large group of US senators and members of the House of Representatives have already written to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk opposing any moves to open US dairy markets to New Zealand. We know from bitter experience the strength of the US lobby against increased agricultural access.

If there is no dairy access, I think there is no deal. The danger is that either there are loopholes which allow the US to keep blocking free and fairy dairy access to their consumers – or that the US Congress doesn’t ratify the agreement.

As an example of just how far it could reach into daily life, our librarians have joined groups questioning the deal, because of concerns changes to copyright law will push up the cost of buying books.

There is widespread concern, meanwhile, both in the business and web communities, about intellectual property clauses.

Governments tinker in that area at their peril: think back to widespread protests against section 92 copyright law changes that would have seen users have their internet connections cut for taking free downloads of music and movies. The Government was eventually forced to rewrite the law.

This is right on the mark. The concerns over the US proposed IP chapter are widely shared by many businesses, as well as the Internet communities and other groups such as libraries and the Royal Foundation for the Blind.

The concern is that the Government may see the IP chapter as something it can trade off for improved dairy access. So far the Government’s position has been to reject anything which would force a change of our current IP laws. I am hoping that stance remains.

The Greens argue foreign investors will have even greater rights than domestic investors and a company like Shanghai Pengxin, which is behind the contentious Crafar farms purchase, would be able to sue if the Government impinged on their operations by moving to regulate or legislate to clean up water pollution.

That’s their spin.

The Government spin, backed by Labour, is that such a clause is nothing new and is, in fact, included in the China Free Trade Agreement. It is also, as Groser reminds opponents, protection for New Zealand companies overseas from having the plug arbitrarily pulled out from under them.

It’s a pretty standard clause in most FTAs. Without such a clause, then governments can undermine the agreements with other forms of barriers. I’m not that worried over such a clause in the TPP so long as it has the normal exemptions.

But no one is suggesting the US will demand anything as crude as scrapping Pharmac. It will instead seek the ability for either the drug companies or consumer groups to challenge and appeal its decisions.

A leaked 2004 Wikileaks cable, written by then US Embassy deputy chief of mission Dave Burnett notes that “after trying in vain for years to persuade the New Zealand government to change its restrictive pricing policies on pharmaceuticals, the drug industry is taking another tack: reaching out to patient groups with information designed to bolster their demands for cutting edge drugs”.

This is a strategy hardly unique to drug companies. They are one of thousand of groups who try to build up political pressure for the Government to spend more money on an activity.

I’d be surprised if the TPP, if completed, has anything in it which affects Pharmac.

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Watkins on Labour on Key

November 12th, 2011 at 9:04 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

Remember the American bag man? The H-bomb? Labour has so far tried shock jock policy (raising the retirement age); taking the moral high ground in the policy debate (a capital gains tax), and gone back to tried and true policies with sweeteners in the form of generous welfare payments, union-friendly law changes and a rise in the minimum wage. But with the polls still showing Labour adrift at below 30 per cent, expect the campaign to turn personal in the final two weeks. Phil Goff has already signalled that is the direction Labour is headed by labelling Mr Key a liar over GST, attacking him over his Hawaiian holiday home, capitalising on his perceived weakness – which is to appear smug – and attacking his credibility.

Since Mr Key became National leader, Labour has also sought to get up various stories, including that Mr Key’s blind trust was a sham; questioning whether he made a false declaration in relation to his electoral address; seeking to link the Government’s BMW contract to National Party donations and a Parnell neighbour of Mr Key’s; and accusing him of mis-stating the number of TranzRail shares he owned.

Last, but not least, was the H-bomb in the 2008 campaign – Labour’s attempt to link Mr Key to a 1980s financial scandal, which exploded in its face after it emerged that it had mistaken someone else’s signature for Mr Key’s. So far this campaign, Mr Goff has tried to avoid a full-frontal personal attack, but the closer to the election we get, the more direct we can expect the attacks to be.

The burning question is whether Labour will follow past form and try to drop a bomb in the final week of the campaign. The advantage of doing it that close to the election date, of course, is you don’t have to prove it till after the polls have closed. The disadvantage is that voters punish negative campaigns.

And of course such proof will never eventuate.

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Watkins on RWC

September 20th, 2011 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Some interesting details in Tracy Watkins column last week:

There is even deeper fury about promises that were supposedly made and not kept. When the Cabinet hauled Auckland transport officials before them to go over the plans one last time they were apparently assured there would be a person on every carriage to avoid delays when emergency buttons were pushed, but that apparently never happened. They were promised 100 extra buses, but got only 31 – many of which had to be diverted to the North Shore when the ferries become overcrowded. And they were told there would be more security on the platforms than eventuated.

If this is correct, it does sounds like some of the problems were very avoidable.

But all that is largely by the by and a direct result of the biggest failure of all – which was the inability to look past the “peer reviewed” guesstimates by consultants that a party on the waterfront on the night of the opening ceremony would probably attract only 30,000 to 50,000 people. Ministers – particularly the Auckland-based ones who regularly see crowds bigger than that for far more mundane events – can’t escape blame for not treating those figures with scepticism and caution.

I agree both Council and Government should have known better and demanded something better than a guesstimate.

It seems that on the Tuesday before the big game, government officials might have got a whiff of the behemoth- in-waiting and approached Auckland authorities about opening up the Bledisloe and Captain Cook wharfs, but were rebuffed. Auckland – the city that loves to tell Wellington to butt out of its affairs – is reaping the resulting ministerial firestorm as a result.

Again, if this is correct it is very significant.

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Watkins on Greens

September 5th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins at Stuff writes:

The decision earlier this year to leave the door open a crack to National post- November 26 was a difficult bridge for the minor party to cross, and there has been collateral damage – but it also looks to have been a shrewd move, even if the Greens are picking up votes from Labour, rather than catching the soft National vote, which was the intention.

What the Greens have actually said is that they “could” work with a National- led government, even if on the basis of current National Party policies it is “extremely unlikely”.

It is extremely unlikely, but possibly preferable to a further 6+ years of opposition.

With National’s only reliable allies, ACT, looking decidedly pasty, and the Maori Party under pressure to distance themselves from National, a cuddlier Green Party would, on the surface, look decidedly attractive to National should its vote fall much below 46 per cent on election night.

Here I disagree. If National’s vote is low enough that Labour could form a Government, then the Greens will go with Labour.

However if a Labour-led Government is not a possibility, then you could have some sort of deal between National and the Greens. It will only work if National does not need the Greens to govern, but like with the Maori Party offers a deal anyway.

A formal coalition deal may be a bridge too far for both parties but as MMP has shown, there is more than one way to skin a cat. The Greens are unlikely to bring themselves to support National on confidence and supply, but abstaining, as they did after 2002 with Labour, could give them sufficient clout to extract significant policy concessions.

This I agree with, and maybe one could even include a portfolio or two in such an agreement. You might have it that the two Ministers have to vote for confidence and supply (as they are in Government) and the rest of the caucus abstains.

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Someone is telling lies

August 20th, 2011 at 12:39 pm by David Farrar

The latest story on the Labour leadership makes it quite clear someone is telling lies.

Now I think most would agree that a blog post from Matthew Hooton on the Labour leadership should not be taken as automatically accurate. Of course neither does it mean it is automatically wrong either.

But Trans-tasman reported on Thursday :

Meanwhile Goff questioned his front bench colleagues last week as to whether he should resign as leader. The questioning took place at a pre-caucus meeting of the front bench group. It followed publication of at least three opinion polls showing Labour slipping heavily in electoral popularity.

Caucus sources says the response to the question was muted, with one senior MP saying

“it’s up to you Phil.” There was no disagreement. The catalyst for a leadership discussion is the realisation if Labour slips further respected list MPs like Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash may lose their places.

This has greater credibility. It references to a specific meeting on a specific date, involving a specific group of people. It refers to multiple sources and uses a quote from one of the sources, who by definition must be a frontbench MP or a senior Labour staffer.

Then we have today’s Dom Post:

An increasingly angry Labour leader Phil Goff is again facing leadership speculation after conflicting accounts over a meeting with some of his closest and most senior colleagues.

He furiously denied reports in political newsletter Trans-Tasman that he asked his frontbench MPs whether he should quit.

Several frontbench MPs backed Mr Goff, either describing the report as “bollocks” or insisting the discussion never took place. Others refused to comment.

But one senior Labour MP said the conversation did happen. “[Phil] did consult the front bench over whether he should go.”

Now I don’t think anyone really thinks that both Trans-tasman and Tracy Watkins are simply inventing stories and specific quotes.

This leaves two possibilities:

  1. Goff did consult the front-bench on whether he should go, and is now lying about it
  2. A member of the Labour front-bench has invented this story and fed it to the media in order to destabilise Goff

It goes without saying that neither scenario is particularly good for Goff and Labour.

I suspect the conversation did happen. I don’t judge Goff harshly for lying and denying it, because it is a reality of politics that you have to deny stuff like this, otherwise you are fatally wounded. Goff probably never imagined that one of his front bench colleagues would leak that he asked his senior colleagues if he should quit.

One Labour source has described the polls as “OK Corral” territory for Mr Goff, with a number of well-respected MPs set to lose their seats should Labour’s support drop any further.

But another MP said Mr Goff’s leadership should be safe – even though there were probably the numbers to roll him should any of the contenders put their hands up.No one wanted the leadership because it was such a “a poisoned chalice” this close to the election.

This sounds like at a minimum three different Labour MPs are talking to the media about Goff’s leadership, so I don’t think one can blame all of this on Matthew Hooton. What is interesting is the assertion that if someone stood, they would have the numbers to roll Goff.

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Key’s tests

January 2nd, 2011 at 11:45 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins in the SST reports:

On the night when John Key pushed his way through a horde of backslapping supporters celebrating his election victory, no one had an inkling that a series of disasters lay in wait.

Ahead lurked a financial crisis, a $1.7 billion corporate bailout, a $4 billion natural disaster, the first combat casualty in a decade, and, finally, Pike River, a tragedy that dwarfed even Cave Creek in terms of loss of life.

As the good ship New Zealand steams from one crisis to the next, Key has become noticeably grey at the temples, and his staff have become increasingly protective of his private family time – a few hours on a Sunday, and the occasional overseas holiday.

Staggeringly, the optimism that charmed voters in 2008 and swept Key to power seems to have survived the battering of two years in office despite little respite from a grim economy and a string of bad news.

Maybe that is why Key and his government are more popular now than on election night. Leaders are judged on how they handle a crisis and Key’s instincts have remained unerringly in touch with what the man or woman on the street expect of him in bad times.

A crisis only looks easy to respond to with hindsight. They often trip leaders up. The Bolger Govt’s response to Cave Creek was poor, and Bush 43 with Hurricane Katrina is an example of how a lack of apparent concern can be damaging. And Obama’s response to the financial crisis led to the birth of the tea party, as a backlash against his fiscal stimulus.

The most important thing is voters knowing that you can step up, says Key.

“People want to know if the government’s in touch with the issues that are real, or are they just people who fight in the debating chamber on inane subjects and call each other names?”


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Watkins on conscience votes

May 3rd, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

Parliament should treat the drinking age as a conscience vote and here is the reason. MPs deserve to have the best brought out in them occasionally and conscience votes do that. They even have the power to remind us why it matters who we send to Parliament.

I agree. By far the best debates I have witnessed in Parliament, have been those as conscience votes. When an MP is free to speak their mind on an issue, without having to worry about whether this is the party line, is when you get the best debate.

So conscience votes are not unique in producing ad hocery, botched law-making and poor compromises (three strikes anyone?). It’s just that in the normal course of events, governments can dress it all up as something else by throwing the weight of their spin machine behind it.

Conscience votes, on the other hand, are policy-making stripped bare.

It comes down to what the MP believes. Some will take the easy option of voting according to the wishes of their electorate. But even that tells us something about them.

It tells us they are not fans of Edmund Burke who said in 1774:

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

If there is to be a vote on the purchase age for alcohol, then it should be one of MPs voting as they see best, not whipped by their parties.

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Reaction to PMs Statement

February 10th, 2010 at 10:38 am by David Farrar

The EU had a reception at the Backbencher last night, so lots of MPs and journalists there to chat to.  The typical opening line from a National MP was “So about that B grade” while from Labour MPs it was “Unlike Annette we won’t use Farrar and respect in the same sentence unless there are some other words in between” :-)

Phil Goff was there also, so I said I looked forward to him quoting me more often in future :-). Actually had an interesting chat generally on economic stuff, such as land tax. If Labour are bold they could consider proposing a land tax (tied to income tax reductions) for 2011. That could attract some support from economic reformers.

General consensus I got from pundits there was that there was definitely some good stuff in the Government’s work plan – in fact more detailed plans that most Governments announce in the PMs statement.

But what may trip the Government up is they misplayed the expectations game. Building the statement up as the “most important” one ever was a mistake, as was talking about it being a “step change”. Again, there is some good stuff there that certainly will help lift economic growth. But will the announcements alone close the gap with Australia? Of course not. But the rhetoric leading up to it, got expectations artificially high.

With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better to have positioned the statement as a typical PMs statement – a general overview of the Government’s achievements and workplan, and then surprise the media and opposition when it turns out to have close to 30 specific initiatives in it.

As I said yesterday, I welcome the focus on growing the economic cake, not just how to split it up, and look forward to more details in the budget.

Reaction from others:

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Dom Post Ratings

December 21st, 2009 at 11:41 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins and Vernon Small rate the front benches. Their scores:

  • John Key 9.0
  • Bill English 6.5
  • Gerry Brownlee 6.5
  • Simon Power 8.5
  • Tony Ryall 8.0
  • Nick Smith 5.5
  • Judith Collins 7.5
  • Anne Tolley 3.5
  • Chris Finlayson 7.0
  • David Carter 4.0
  • Tariana Turia 7.0
  • Pita Sharples 6.0
  • Rodney Hide 2.0
  • Phil Goff 7.5
  • Annette King 6.5
  • David Cunliffe 6.0
  • Ruth Dyson 5.5
  • Parekura Horomia 4.0
  • Clayton Cosgrove 6.5
  • Chris Carter 2.0
  • Maryan Street 5.0
  • Darren Hughes 6.0
  • David Parker 8.0
  • Russel Norman 6.0
  • Metiria Turei 4.5

While most of the ratings are common sense, I actually would disagree with a few. I can’t imagine how you can say the Shadow Attorney-General (David Parker) is a point higher than the actual Attorney-General (Chris Finlayson). I agree Parker has been one of the better Labour MPs.

Likewise the Dom Post seem to be reflecting Trevor Mallard’s view of Anne Tolley, than the real world. They have rated Parekura Horomia higher than Tolley. Yes, Anne Tolley was a bit unsteady in the House in her early days, but doesn’t look as bothered now. And frankly blaming Tolley for not getting the teacher unions to support national standards as absurd. That is like giving Michael Cullen bad marks as the former Finance Minister for not getting the Roundtable to endorse his policies.

I also can’t see where you rate Carter a 4.0 for Agriculture – just because he is low profile. The feedback I get is that Carter is very respected by the industry.

And on the Labour side, a totally lack of mention of Goff’s biggest fuck up during the year – the Richard Worth scandal. His championing of Neelam Choudary as some shy and retiring person who could not handle Worth blew up massively in his face and damaged his brand. He dropped significantly in the polls after that. A 7.5 is well rather generous for the man whose party is 25 points behind in the polls.

But hey it gets boring if everyone agrees on every rating.

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Dom Post Political Awards

December 19th, 2009 at 11:18 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins and Martin Kay hand out their awards:

  • Politician of the Year – John Key
  • Wally of the Year – Rodney Hide
  • The Merit Award for Prime Ministers with English as a second language – John Key
  • Koru Club Award For Services to the Airline Industry – Chris Carter with Roger Douglas runner-up
  • Oliver Twist “Please, Sir, I Want Some More” Award – Bill English
  • Interpol Award for Undercover Operations – Rick Barker
  • James Bond Medal for Services to National Security – Keith Locke, Sue Bradford & Catherine Delahunty
  • Nelson Mandela Award for Services to Race Relations – Hone Harawira with Phil Goff runner-up
  • Lazarus Award – Lockwood Smith
  • Gone by Lunchtime Award – Richard Worth
  • Crimestoppers award – Melissa Lee
  • Dr Doolittle Award – Nick Smith
  • Stop Digging Award – David Garrett
  • Pigs Ear, Silk Purse Award – John Key

The rationale for the Dr Doolittle Award is amusing.

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What a mess

October 14th, 2009 at 10:48 am by David Farrar

My God, the Rugby World Cup free to air rights issue is a mess, to put it kindly. A fiasco maybe.

I’m someone who actually is supportive of the ambition of Maori TV to be the free to air broadcaster. But the sticking point is the only 90% coverage. Having 10% of New Zealanders not able to get free to air coverage of the Rugby World Cup we are hosting was never going to be acceptable.

If Pita Sharples had talked to other Ministers on the (laudable) ambition for Maori TV, they may have been able to actually help with the bid, by asking the right questions. Instead, we now have two different parties in Government appearing to back competing bids by taxpayer funded stations.

So what do the media say. The Herald reports:

Maori TV chief executive Jim Mather says the channel will continue to fight the Government for the rights to screen the Rugby World Cup, and will use money from wealthy iwi and corporate groups to outbid it.

Well that I approve of!

IRB spokesman Ross Young said the board would be open to increased bids.

I bet they are. They must be laughing all the way to the bank.

The Herald understands the Government’s concern about Maori TV’s coverage relates to fears about small crowds at the tournament, already expected to make a $40 million loss.

The Government and Rugby Union can make money only from ticket sales, and are worried about how these would be affected without the hype TVNZ can generate.

Well then TVNZ should have put in a bigger bid initially – possibly with support from the Rugby Union.

But Mr Mather said this was “throwing Maori TV the crumbs” and there was little chance of it being involved. The value to Maori TV was in having the exclusive rights, requiring viewers to switch over, rather than staying behind the major networks.

And this is the big pay off for Maori TV. It can take years for people to get used to checking a channel out. A month of people swapping to Maori TV for the RWC would probably leave them with a lot more viewers after the cup.

So what is the so called Govt plan:

- TVNZ leads bid to show the 16 most important games live and free-to-air, backed by Government money.

- TVNZ will show six games – two of the All Blacks’ pool games, the semi-finals, final, and third/fourth play-off.

- TV3, which has put up some of its own money, will show six games – the two other All Blacks pool games, the semi-finals, final and third/fourth play-off.

If it wants, Maori TV can put up money and simulcast the games TVNZ and TV3 are showing. It can also show the balance of the 16 games that the networks do not want.

The challenge for Maori TV is how they can do a bid that covers more than 90% of NZ.

Patrick Gower writes:

Remember the utter shambles as the All Blacks bombed out of the last Rugby World Cup because they could not organise a simple drop-goal in Cardiff?

If the failure to do the strikingly obvious that day left you horrified, then best to cover your eyes before watching the Government’s bungling of the free-to-air television rights for the next Rugby World Cup. …

TVNZ’s involvement is necessary because it has the reach and numbers to hype up the tournament over the next two years and get people through the gates, with ticketing the only way the Government and Rugby Union can make money and stem losses.

Maori TV can offer unique cultural and language elements as well as the flexibility of scheduling to be able to show wall-to-wall coverage without having to break for regular programming like the nightly news.

Surely getting the two together as co-broadcasters months ago and bargaining with the IRB was the obvious solution?

That would have been nice.

Audrey Young chips in:

The political debacle over the Maori Television Service bid for Rugby World Cup coverage rights has soured relations between National and the Maori Party more than anything else in their one-year partnership.

Yep, and it was al avoidable if Ministers talked to each other earlier on.

The Herald editorial proclaims:

The saga of Maori Television’s bid for the Rugby World Cup’s free-to-air broadcasts has taken a bizarre turn with the Government’s decision to fund a higher bid by TVNZ. The International Rugby Board, seller of the broadcasting rights, must be wide-eyed in wonder and glee that it stands to gain from a contest between two bids financed by New Zealand taxpayers. …

But it has taken a quite disturbing degree of fright at the prospect of Maori Television winning the free-to-air rights. Certainly, the Government had a right to be aggrieved that its coalition partner, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, did not consult National ministers before approving $3 million from his department, Te Puni Kokiri, to finance the bid.

The general rule of thumb is you should consult your colleagues on anything you would expect to be consulted over.

But if the taxpayer must contribute, why not through Maori Television? It is building a strong presence as a public channel for ceremonial events such as Waitangi Day and Anzac Day. Its coverage of the funeral for Sir Howard Morrison was deeply admired by all who caught it. TVNZ seems no longer interested in this sort of occasion either.

Maori Television was offering World Cup commentaries in English and Maori, from familiar faces and new. It aimed to popularise some Maori phrases through the English telecast, meeting its state-funded mission. On recent evidence it would do a conscientious and fine job. Surely a free-to-air partnership can be forged that would meet all concerns and save the taxpayer this ridiculous double bid.

I agree.

And Tracy Watkins:

In effect, we’ve got government ministers bidding against each other – and ratcheting up the cost for taxpayers as a consequence – to suit their own political purposes.

On the one side is Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples who gave Maori TV the green light for a $3 million-plus bid in a nod to his Maori constituency.

On the other are senior ministers Bill English, Jonathan Coleman and Murray McCully, who’ve given TVNZ and TV3 a nod and a wink that the Government will step in with whatever it takes to win the bid over Maori TV – presumably after concluding that their own constituency won’t take kindly to having to tune into Maori TV to watch world cup games.

I don’t think that is the issue. If done in the right way, I think one could have got the Government quite supportive of the bid. The bigger issue is achieving greater than 90% coverage, and also using TV to boost ticket sales.

The script writers for Yes Minister couldn’t have come up with a more absurd plot.

It would be a great script!

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Key’s formula

September 12th, 2009 at 2:48 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes in the Dom Post:

If they could bottle what John Key’s got and sell it, National would make a killing.

It might be a seemingly innocuous brew of good humour and affability, rather than the traditionally more coveted mix of charisma and skilled oratory, but it clearly works.

I’m going to return back to what Tracy wrote, but want to cut over to another story that I think is a superb example of what Tracy is on about. It is this one about firefighters protesting outside the opening of a new fire station by the Prime Minister, over their pay claim.

Now this is the sort of issue that would normally prompt a discussion in the PMs Office and the PM. You will be worried about the negative message getting in the way of the positive message about funding a new fire station.

Now I can say with some certainty that the way previous National PMs would have handled the situation is to have the Minister of Internal Affairs do a press release and briefing the day before the briefing setting out how the Firefighters Union is misleading over their pay claims, and that with their various allowance they rake in $70,000 and spend so much of their time sleeping on standby, most can easily do a second job, and that their total pay per hour actually spent working is well over $50 an hour. This would then put the pressure on the union and protesters to respond, and take the heat off the PM.

Again with some confidence I can say former Labour PMs would handle it very similarly. The key difference would be that they wouldn’t have the Internal Affairs Minister release the information publicly, as they don’t like to be seen crapping on the unions that fund them. Instead a press secretary would give the relevant information to a journalist, and they would rely on the rest of the media picking up the story.

So what did John Key do:

The firefighters, in their yellow protective clothing, waved placards, chanted and pressed themselves against the station’s glass roller doors as Mr Key spoke.

After the opening, he went outside and addressed them through a megaphone.

He insisted he had not yet received a recommendation on wage rises from the Fire Service.

“All we’re saying to you guys is we’re living in a backdrop where a hell of a lot of people are losing their job, where the Government is running big deficits and where we’ve all got to be reasonable.”

Mr Key said that if insurance levies, which pay the Fire Service’s wages, went up then more pressure would be placed on taxpayers, already struggling with the recession.

“At the end of the day what we’re trying to do is make sure there isn’t huge pressure on a lot of people that are losing their jobs,” he said.

Union spokesman Boyd Raines said Mr Key’s response was “fairly predictable in terms of the Nats’ party line”.


However, Mr Raines added: “It was good to see that he actually had the balls to come out and actually front up to the crowd.”

And quite a few of the protesters would have said the same thing. Don’t get me wrong – they are not going to suddenly convert to National because of what Key did. But they will say, “Hey at least he did us the decency of listening to us, and talking to us- rather than just attack us”.

And this is what is a strength of Key’s. He comes across as so reasonable. Apart from some of the authors of The Standard (and some of the commenters on this blog!), most people can see that and respond to that. They think he’s a nice talented guy, who tries to reasonably engage with everyone – even those who are there to protest against him.

So back to what Tracy said:

This is what has Labour strategists scratching their heads. As the party heads into its annual conference in Rotorua this weekend, it faces the same dilemma National once faced: when your opponent’s most potent weapon is its leader, is an old-fashioned contest of ideas going to be enough?

Maybe it’s that “what you see is what you get” quality to Mr Key’s leadership that strikes a chord with voters. It is hard to find artifice in a man who makes verbal gaffes, has a nice line in self-deprecating humour, talks about his kids a lot and has never worried too much about looking statesmanlike.

Again, one could imagine it easy to have someone advising the PM that whatever you do don’t pick up a megaphone and talk to the protesters. The arguments would be that it is undignified, it puts you on their level, it might look bad on the news etc etc. But he doesn’t worry about that very much.

Politicians have never underestimated the power of a friendly smile and an open and engaging face. Helen Clark crawled out from under the ignominy of dismal poll ratings as Opposition leader by smiling more and softening her voice under the tutelage of Brian Edwards and Judy Callingham. The remarkable thing is that she even had to be taught; in a more relaxed setting, Miss Clark loves nothing more than a good laugh, and does so boisterously and often. But she almost had to unlearn years of political training to unlock the person within and even then never managed to drop the shield completely.

Of course, spin doctoring can only go so far and, in the wrong hands, a politician’s smile can be an unmitigated disaster. Take British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He cemented his unpopularity only after an attempt to connect with voters by smiling scarily and at random through an infamous YouTube clip.

Simon Hoggart, in The Guardian, likened it to “the smile a 50-year-old man might use on the parents of the 23-year-old woman he is dating, in a doomed attempt to reassure them”. Even Mr Brown’s own colleagues could not hold back from poking fun at him.

Ha that is a great analogy.

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Watkins on Blogs

September 2nd, 2009 at 7:49 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins blogs:

I like David and he’s definitely one of the sharper knives in the drawer around Wellington, but sadly he seems to have lost his mojo. Back when Labour was in power, he did a sterling job of running issues and was the outlet for the voice of opposition. But nowadays he seems to be floundering over his purpose. Cheerleading is okay but it’s not why people started reading Kiwiblog.

Funnily enough, just a couple of days ago, Audrey Young blogged:

Key’s nervousness is aided no doubt by continued critical commentary on the right including from David Farrar’s Kiwiblog most recently on the Boscawen bill

So one political editor says I’m cheerleading and another says my continued critical commentary is making the PM nervous :-)

It should be no surprise to anyone that Kiwiblog is less “edgy” with National in Government. Of course I am going to be happier with more of what the Government does.

But I do reject the label of cheerleader. Hell, I ignore most of the announcements from Government as boring. And I thought I had been pretty vigorous in opposing the Government’s moves to ban handheld cellphone use in cars. I’ve said many times I don’t support at large Council seats for Auckland. I have called for the anti-smacking law to be changed numerous times. I’ve continued to advocate Nancy Wake getting honoured (despite the change of Government) and have also said several times that the immigration allegations around a National MP should have gone to an independent inquiry.

But I hold centre-right beliefs. I enjoy pointing out lunacy and hypocrisy from the left, and while they keep providing me material, I’ll enjoy keeping that up.

This probably appears somewhat defensive. I think Tracy is probably quite right that Kiwiblog is not the same as in the last years of Labour – I agree. But I don’t like or accept the term “cheer leader”. My purpose in blogging is much the same as when I started – to have my say on anything I am interested in.

Anyway back to Tracy:

Whale Oil: I’ll admit it… once I got over my squeamishness, I quite enjoyed his blog. Utterly nihilistic and entertaining

Nihilistic – that’s a good term for it!

The Standard: They have picked up where Kiwiblog left off and do a good job of running issues as the voice of opposition. It’s a Labour blog in the same way Kiwiblog is a National blog, I guess, so it makes sense that they would fit more comfortably within the blogosphere now Labour is in Opposition. But The Standard is not yet required reading in the same way that Kiwiblog was during Labour’s final few years in government.

I said both before and after the election that I thought The Standard would do better in Opposition, and I agree with Tracy that they are. They seemed to more an anti John Key blog, even when he was in Opposition, than anything else, so having Key as PM gives them much more material.

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I’d forgotten how bad Clark could be

August 8th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Luckily we have an interview with Tracy Watkins to remind us:

Eight months on from Labour’s election loss, former prime minister Helen Clark has no regrets and she rejects suggestions that Labour alienated voters by pushing through measures such as the child discipline bill.

Clark is still unable to accept she ever did anything wrong. Her valedictory speech to Parliament sounded like a triumph speech, where her getting thrown out of office was just some sort of mistake by the voters.

Now in New York as head of the United Nations Development Programme, Miss Clark has also revealed unease at the National Government’s direction on climate change and says its scrapping of her flagship sustainability agenda was motivated by sheer vindictiveness.

As I said, I’d forgotten how nasty Clark could be. My God – she thinks it is all about her. And yes this nasty vindictive Government that fully supported her campaign for the UN job, and appointed Michael Cullen to an SOE.

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Watkins on Goff

July 25th, 2009 at 2:07 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

As the reality of John Key’s prolonged honeymoon sinks in, two things are happening within the Labour caucus.

I do wish media would stop explaining high poll ratings by claiming Key is still enjoying his honeymoon. Not only does this ignore all the potential problems such as a Budget that cancelled tax cuts, a Ministerial sacking, the Rankin appointment and a massive by-election thrashing – it goes against all the numerous tome media and thers have already proclaimed the honeymoon is over.

Duncan Garner called the honeymoon dead on 9 June for example. The Herald on Sunday on 17 May. Even Labour called it over on 13 May.

A honeymoon period is when you have no real problems. It is not a term meant to apply whenever the Government remains high in the polls.

The first is that they have become gripped by a sense of grievance that Mr Key’s honeymoon is only down to the media giving him an easy ride.

Yes I recall how easy the media went on him over Richard Worth, the by-election and Christine Rankin. As in, not at all.

Even defeat was seen as nothing more than an interruption to normal transmission. Labour MPs who wore the mantle of martyrdom about as well as could be expected for those who have taken a massive cut in salary and been forced out of their ministerial homes concluded that the temporary mood of boredom and recklessness that gripped voters on election day would be overtaken eventually by the realisation they had squandered a capable and much-loved government.

The culture of entitlement, as they call it in Canada.

Mr Goff’s blunders this week were twofold; he tried to dress up a reheated election policy as a new one, but was left scrambling to fill in the gaps when pressed to flesh it out. It was intended to put the Government on the back foot by painting it as devoid of ideas in the face of a looming unemployment crisis.

But the consequence of the rush was a badly thought out policy that pledged welfare for the rich, when the intended recipients had always been the battling middle classes.

Money for millionaires!

To compound the problem, Mr Goff championed the cause of a “Kiwi battler” who claimed to be on the brink of losing his home of 20 years because he could not get an unemployment benefit after losing his job, even though his wife earned only $21,000 a year.

The man’s story, which featured in an Auckland newspaper, rang alarm bells among many who read it on the Wednesday morning. It did not ring true that with 20 years of mortgage payments under their belt and a lifetime of frugality, the couple were a step away from the poorhouse.

And it was exactly that scenario which was the emotional string-puller. The Goff painted fantasy that you can have owned your home for 20 years, paid all your taxes, yet lose your home within months of unemployment because of the nasty Key Government.

The argument that taxpayers should pick up the tab for a couple with property worth well over $1 million is one that most would find preposterous. Worse, it transpired that Mr Goff and his team knew about the man’s other properties. But where warning lights should have flashed up after the newspaper’s failure to dig up the pertinent facts, Mr Goff and his team saw a green light instead.

Hopefully the media learn a lesson from this also. Ask for all the relevant facts when presented with a sob story. Mind you a Herald staffer said on radio that they had asked Labour if this couple had any other sources of income and were not told about the properties.

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Why is National on 60%?

February 20th, 2009 at 1:05 pm by David Farrar

It is interesting to look at analysis of why National is on 60%. Of course there is a honeymoon factor in there, but let me tell you National in Feb 1991 was not on 60%!

Steve Pierson at The Standard thinks it is because John Key smiles a lot, and it is all because National has such a super smart PR team, that National is at 60%. I mean, hey they even turned his broken arm into a plus.

I think it is because John Key is Labour’s worst nightmare. He is a genuine unpredictable centrist. Now he is a centre-right centrist, but they can’t pigeonhole him as the typical “new right neo-liberal”.

Labour spent over a million dollars on ads last year telling NZers they can not trust John Key. It was the most personally targeted negative campaign we had seen. Why were they so desperate to have people think Key was not a centrist? Because they knew deep down he was, and that that is where elections are won.

Look at what the Gallery are saying. Tracy Watkins blogs:

It’s a new world order. But some people don’t seem to get it yet.

Trying to interpret comments by John Key about Fisher & Paykel in the context of the old arguments about Left and Right is about as useful as comparing a Toyota Camry with an ocean-going liner.

And Colin Espiner also blogs:

John Key just continues to surprise – and I imagine he’s surprising his own party and its backers as much as the public.

Generally when Roger Kerr from the dry-Right Business Roundtable starts writing articles criticising you just a few months into your first term in government, it’s because you’re a centre-Left government.

But in National’s case, it’s because they’ve got a leader and a Prime Minister who has pretty much torn up the rule book governing the political spectrum.

If Helen Clark shifted the paradigm of New Zealand politics during her nine years in power, Key seems to be intent on exploding it altogether.

Espiner also looks at how hands on Key is:

When Key caught wind that banks might be being a little stingy with their credit to businesses, he got on the blower to their chief executives and had a little chat. Imagine Helen Clark or Michael Cullen doing that?

And after Fisher and Paykel Appliances saw its share price plummet 40 percent in a single day yesterday, Key again reached for the telephone and called up chief executive John Bongard.

This is why I semi-jokingly refer to John’s Muldoonist tendencies!

Colin also notes:

Just one other example of Key’s newfound interventionist streak – the impending cricket tour of Zimbabwe by the Black Caps. Remember 2005, when the Labour government refused to intervene to stop NZ Cricket touring? It did stop the return series by declining visas for the Zimbabwe players, and I accept there were few stronger critics of the Mugabwe regime than Clark.

But Labour’s view was that to prevent the cricketers heading to Africa it would have had to revoke their passports, and that was a bridge too far.

Key doesn’t seem to have any such qualms. He pretty much said yesterday, and again on his way into caucus this morning, that the tour wouldn’t be proceeding. Asked if that meant revoking passports, he shrugged and said he was looking at all the options.

There’s a gutsy determination about him at the moment that reminds me very much of Clark in her earlier years, before she became worn down by the endless decision-making and sheer plethora of issues and controversies that enveloped her government.

I think it’s refreshing, as long as it lasts.

And this is why National is at 60%. Not because everyone loves National, but because they do love John Key. Only 4% of NZers thought he was doing a poor or weak job. That is incredibly low.

Labour and its allies need to realise they are dealing with a very different politician with John Key. He is an instinctive rather than ideological politician. Now his instincts are centre-right, but he operates by trusting his instincts and his skills to get good outcomes.

If people think National is at 60% just because John Key smiles a lot, then they are dramatically under-estimating him. Just as they did last year when they all said he would get whipped by Helen in the debates.

Now sure market purists like myself are wincing from time to time, as John does one of his interventions. But the battle for most of the public lies in the centre.

The challenge for Labour is how do they respond?

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Watkins on press secretary salaries

February 17th, 2009 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Dom Post Political Editor Tracy Watkin blogs:

It takes a lot to shock the hardened hacks around the press gallery – but news of the pay rates awarded to the new intake of press secretaries has caused quite a stir.

Heh guaranteed to do so. What I found interesting was the range:

Eight media staff were employed under Labour on salaries of $100,000-or-more, seven in the $10,000 band below. And that was in November 2008; as a general rule, the closer to an election, the higher the pay rates – salary demands tend to be ratcheted up when an election is looming, particularly when it looks like a government is on its last legs and the vacancies come thick and fast as longer-serving press secs desert for positions with more job security. …

Meanwhile, you have to feel sorry for the three unnamed National press secretaries who signed up for less than $60,000.

I don’t think it is a problem that some press secretaries are on under $60,000 and some over $100,000.

The most senior Ministers need highly experienced people as press secretaries. They will have people with sometimes decades of experience, and need to pay to recognise that. These are the officers where almost every day is a crisis day – as in there is some sensitive issue they have to deal with.

Some of the more junior Ministers have an easier ride. For example Consumer Affairs doesn’t normally create too many issues, so that Minister may only need someone who has been a journalist for a few years – with their skills being more on good written communication skills, rather than on devising “key lines” etc.

So the salary range isn’t that unusual to my eyes. I will say I was a bit surprised that 18 press secretaries are on over $100,000 as my gut reaction is probably only the front bench (10 or so) need someone that experienced. But I’m no expert on what the market rates are.

I remember my own pay negotiation when I was in the PM’s Office in the late 90s. I got screwed over and settled for far too low a salary. The problem was the bastards knew I’d probably work there for almost free, and exploited that :-)

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Tracy Watkins Blog

February 11th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post have replaced their former group blog for their gallery team, with a dedicated one for their political editor Tracy Watkins, called Tracy Watkins on Politics.

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