Will Labour agree to make Peters PM?

June 5th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

If you think that’s a stretch (and Peters has run with conspiracy theories on less), here’s another theory that’s been doing the rounds much longer.

It is that Peters will only retire after he has fulfilled his ambition of one day being prime minister. It’s even said to have been put on the able in NZ First’s protracted negotiations to form a government in 1996.

Election night 2017 might be now or never for Peters, given he will be 72 by the time the next election rolls around.

Which is why the Labour-Greens cooperation agreement announced this week might be the game changer everyone is talking about, but not in the way they think.

Because it may bring Peters’ dream within his grasp.

Let’s say the election delivers a result of National 45%, Labour 23%, NZ First 15%, Greens 10%.

NZ First holds the balance of power. Peters demands to be made PM. National says no. A party on 45% is not going to give up the top job. Labour however has just 23%. They are desperate to be in Government. Bang you have Winston as PM.

Little’s conspiracy gets even larger

April 23rd, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

As for McCully’s handpicked appointees, these are the members of the Niue Tourism Property Trust whose members are indeed appointed by McCully on behalf of the Niue Government.

It has already been widely reported that they include the likes of the island’s High Commissioner and former police officer Ross Ardern. (Ardern also happens to be the father of Labour MP Jacinda Ardern so one would assume he’s not embedded with the National Party).

But this is where it gets complicated.

The Niue Tourism Property Trust appointed a board to oversee the running of the hotel and according to one of the four board members the agreement was negotiated and signed between Scenic Hotels and the board rather than the trust itself.

The tender process itself, meanwhile, was run by consultancy group Horwarth (which did the early feasibility studies for Auckland’s international conventional centre). So again, a step removed from the government appointees on Niue property trust.

Little is right when he says that it is his role as Opposition leader to ask questions when a big political donor is awarded Government contracts.

But suggesting it “stinks to high heaven” takes things to a different level.

Even if there hadn’t been a number of steps between the minister and the decision to award the contract, Little’s claim appears to rest on the assumption that everyone involved in the process – from senior diplomats, to government agencies and senior politicians – was either swayed by the donation, or leaned on by the minister.

In the absence of a whistle blower, or any documentation, leaked emails or other evidence so far to support that view, that’s a pretty serious accusation. Seemingly, it relies solely on the fact that Hagaman donated money to the National Party.

This is dangerous territory for Little and not because the Hagamans have threatened legal action.

With the involvement of Horwarth, Little’s allegations only stack up if the conspiracy involves McCully, the two Hagamans, the three trustees (including Ross Ardern), the four board members and the staff of Horwarth.

Little was right to ask the question but wrong to leap to judgement before the Auditor General decides even whether to take a look.

If Little had just asked for it to be reviewed, no problems. But he rushed to judgment and declared it stank to high heaven, and insulted the trustees by effectively referring to them as McCully’s handpicked mates when one of them is an MFAT Deputy Secretary and another the High Commissioner (and father of a Labour MP).

If every big donation is going to be decried as dodgy there seem to be only two alternatives – either barring donors from tendering for Government contracts, which is probably unworkable, or a fully state funded regime, which is where the first option ultimately leads anyway, given the inevitable drying up of campaign funds.

This is what Labour wants. They are broke so they want to force taxpayers to fund their party.

Watkins on Angry Andy

March 22nd, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

National has a nickname for Labour leader Andrew Little. Angry Andy. They taunt him with it in Parliament.

They reckon it’s Little’s achilles heel, that he can come across to the punters as perpetually angry. No wonder Labour was happy the day Little’s cat Buddy photo-bombed him. No man with a cat called Buddy .can be angry all the time, right?

But maybe the Nats’ “angry Andy”meme is just a cunning case of reverse psychology. Because angry politics seems to be working just fine for America’s Donald Trump, and its angry septuagenarian Bernie Sanders.

That’s because most Americans are unhappy with the direction of their country. For more than a decade only around 30% of Americans say their country is heading in the right direction. By contrast, in NZ, around 60% of NZers say they think the country is heading in the right direction.

So why isn’t angry working for Little? Labour is stuck in the poll doldrums and looking increasingly adrift as a frustrated Little clutches at a grab bag of soundbites and tries to give them a unifying theme.

They have no discipline and strategy. After years of bagging dairy farmers, they seize on low milk prices and demand the Government force banks to write off loans to diary farmers. They need to choose three issues and focus on them relentlessly. However almost every day they chase the issue of the week.

Because it’s all looking increasingly desperate and on the hoof. In the same week that Little opined against importing ethnic chefs, he and his finance spokesman laid out the case for bailing out battling dairy farmers, not a group that’s traditionally sparked sympathy for being trapped on the wrong side of the inequality divide.

Square pegs and nothing but round holes for as far as the eye can see.

Desperate is a good word for it.

It’s not just the punters who are confused. Little’s MPs are less and less inclined to hide their bafflement at what’s coming out of the third floor leader’s office or – more to the point – what’s coming out of the leader’s mouth.

This is a dangerous time for Little. The success of his leadership so far has been in unifying a fractious and divided caucus. But the traditional fault lines are starting to reassert themselves.

This is significant. Little had no internal criticism for the first 15 months, but his MPs are getting sick of the lack of direction.

Likewise the unease over targeting Asian house purchasers. Labour used to have a stranglehold on the ethnic vote. No more. National Party rallies – once the the domain of the blue rinse set and farmers – are now glitzy affairs where Asian faces clearly outnumber the blue-rinse brigade.

They like a party that doesn’t target people on their surnames.

If Little’s foray into the immigration debate had been a populist attempt to muscle in on traditional NZ First territory it might have been excused as part of a broader – if cynical – plan.

But Little’s desperate attempts to hose down the ethnic chefs debacle make a nonsense even of that idea.

The Labour base went into meltdown. Twitter exploded, the activists were in a fury and Little was left defending himself with the usual figleaf that his quotes were taken out of context.

Having to do a secret blog post to your own members is never a good look.

Unlike the US, meanwhile, we are blessed with a political system that works.

Which is not to say middle New Zealand is not capable of getting angry again.

But Little won’t find that anger by floundering around looking for opportunist itches to scratch.

It’s desperate politics. Again they need to choose three issues and stick with them for not one day, one week or even one month, but three years.

Watkins on Waitangi

February 3rd, 2016 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

Remember when Titewhai Harawira used to be one of the reasons politicians stayed away from Waitangi?

You reap what you sow, as they say. On Tuesday, Harawira phoned with a personal appeal for Prime Minister John Key to attend the traditional Waitangi Day commemorations at the trouble-plagued Te Tii Marae.

But if Key stays away it will be because he’s sniffed the winds of public opinion as Waitangi threatens once again to descend into conflict and acrimony  – and judges that voters have had a gutsful of the annual Te Tii Marae sideshow setting the tone for our only national day.

No, if he stays way it will be because they voted 38 – 14 not to invite him.


Watkins on the parties

December 5th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins looks at the parties in 2015:

Because the Government ends the year as it began, ploughing through turbulence, controversy and crisis to emerge battle scarred and worn, but with its bow still riding high, according to the latest polls.

This truly is the Houdini government.

There are signs that Prime Minister John Key’s star is waning, but from such dizzy heights there’s a way for it to fall yet before National will start to panic.

But it’s not been a bad year for Labour either, all things considered.

There was no great honeymoon for Labour leader Andrew Little, but then again, there were no great disasters either.

This was a year of consolidation and solidity – the caucus looks united, there have been some standout performances, and Little has stamped out the dysfunction and backbiting that were the hallmark of recent years.

He deserves far more kudos for that than he has received so far.

So solid years for the two big ones.

Peters was the standout, rocking the political landscape with his Northland by-election win and, in the process, giving NZ First a fresh purpose as the voice for the “forgotten” provinces in heartland New Zealand.

But more significant than the win was the fact that Peters also changed the political landscape by robbing National of its margin of error on Parliamentary votes.

A good year for Winston.

Meanwhile, UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne reinvented himself as the coalition Government’s conscience and caused National just enough of a headache to free himself of the ‘poodle” tag.

Dare I say it,  Dunne may even be the new cool.

ACT leader David Seymour is another revelation, combining quirkiness, eccentricity and independent thought in equal measure, though it is still hard to look past the young fogey-ishness.

But he has done more to bring ACT back to its founding Liberal Party roots than some of his more recent predecessors.

The Maori Party has floundered with the loss of its twin pillars of strength, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, but despite all that new co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell has probably achieved far more behind the scenes in his Maori Affairs portfolio than Dr Sharples.

New face Marama Fox has bought a refreshing sassiness to the party, and will likely outshine her co-leader Flavell on the campaign trail.

And the party has wrung important concessions from National, which it will remind voters about in 2017.

The three small parties all have had good years, partly thanks to Winston making them all more important.

As for the Greens, who sit uncomfortably between big party and minor party status, this has been a year of soul searching after a disappointing election result and the loss of co-leader Russel Norman. More ripples from installing outsider James Shaw over old hands like Kevin Hague and Gareth Hughes may yet be felt when MPs consider their futures ahead of the next election.

But Shaw has already made some canny moves that suggest he was the right choice to de-tune some of the messages that were scaring off potential voters. Metiria Turei has been just bolshie enough to suggest she too has heard the speculation about a push for change in the female co-leadership.

The Greens don’t look able to get significantly past that 10% barrier and even if there is a change of Government, it is almost inevitable Winston would lock them out of Cabinet.

As for Colin Craig, he looks to have delivered his Conservative Party a death blow. There is no way back from the scandal, intrigue and bizarre allegations surrounding Craig this year.

I can’t see it, but mind you the same was once said about ACT.

Watkins on Key

October 21st, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

Is Key too honest? It would be a bit rich to take him to task for that, given that honesty is an attribute we prize most highly in politicians. So the answer to that is yes and no. The Key we press gallery hacks see day to day is a politician through and through, someone who weighs up his answers, who knows his opponents’ weak points, and who understands the impact of his words. …

And then there is the other Key, the one who throws caution to the wind, jokes with a shock jock about his gay red shirt and horses around by pulling a waitress’ pony tail. That’s Key the anti-politician, the bloke who’s just like you and me, or someone we know at least. That connection with voters, still strong after nearly a decade, is National’s not so secret – and clearly most potent – weapon.

So Key the anti-politician will confess to Radio Hauraki that he stole. But Key the politician expands with the explanation that it was an apple off a neighbour’s tree.

My theft was milk bottle money and a chocolate bar!

Watkins on Little

October 21st, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

It is said that one bad day in government is worth 100 good days in Opposition.

But Labour leader Andrew Little can’t afford to be too proud at the moment; he would probably gladly settle for 100 good days in Opposition.

Labour badly needs to end the year on a high and not just for the sake of party morale at the upcoming annual conference. Barbecue season is just weeks away, and the only talk at the moment will be about National winning a fourth term. If  Labour wants to change that story, the time is now.

I always enjoy barbecue season.

But if there’s anyone on a high at the moment it’s John Key, not Andrew Little.

The last few weeks must seem all too familiar to Little’s team.

The wins have all been National’s.

Voters might be wearied by the on-again off-again nature of Bill English’s much promised surplus but it no doubt registered that he finally got there this week.

That’s all that counts in the countdown to Christmas when voters will increasingly start to tune out of politics, especially with the Rugby World Cup reaching fever pitch.

John Key’s time on the international stage, meanwhile, has sucked the oxygen out of domestic politics, particularly his headline grabbing trip to Iraq.

It helps too that the mood seems to have lifted on the economy, pushed along by record low interest rates.

Tracy forgot to mention the TPP. Not that it was a great victory for the Government, but Labour’s handling has been shambolic for them.

Annette King is doing a great job. So is Phil Goff. But they are the face of the last Labour government not the future. Little is said to be in a dilemma over his looming reshuffle and whether or not to remove King as his deputy and appoint Jacinda Ardern in her place. This shouldn’t even be a thing.

King would be a popular choice with the party but Little’s got their votes. If he wants to broaden Labour’s appeal he needs to promote Ardern. Or Kelvin Davis. Or anyone really who looks like the face of Labour’s future, not its past.

Actually they were the faces of the 4th Labour Government in the 1980s.

2.29 million New Zealanders have been born since Phil Goff became an MP.

Watkins on Iraq

October 8th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins writes:

John Key’s trip to Iraq asked and answered the question about whether our troops are making a difference.

It only took a day watching the Kiwi trainers and their students in action at Camp Taji in Iraq to know they are making a real difference and it is more than just a drop in the ocean. 

A first hand observation from someone who has just been there.

And they are doing it under hellish conditions that beggar belief – stranded in a desert miles from anywhere and surrounded by pockets of one of the most brutal enemies in modern time, the Islamic State.

Our soldiers there are serving hard.

They passionately believe that the six weeks they get to train up Iraqi soldiers for the fight against IS – or Daesh as they prefer to call the enemy – has and will save Iraqi lives.

Six weeks may not be long compared with the years that Kiwi recruits get on the training ground. But the soldiers who leave them will still have a better chance of defeating IS than when they came in.

Many of them are veterans of the battle field and they have lost not only fellow soldiers but friends and family to IS.

But they have been fighting with one arm behind their back, lacking equipment and experience.

Part of what the Kiwis do is demystify the enemy to Iraqi soldiers, demoralised by the slick mind games of an enemy that has mastered social media to spread chilling propaganda.

Among the myths that have taken root are that IS has millions of soldiers and snipers who can shoot them from 6km away.

Along with teaching the Iraqi troops medical skills and combat tactics like door-to-door fighting and the use of explosives, the Kiwis have been debunking the myths and boosting the confidence of their students that IS is an enemy that can be beaten.

And they are doing it in a typically Kiwi fashion that has earned them the respect of the Iraqi soldiers.

It may not be a huge contribution, but it is important to be doing our bit. Abandoning the Iraqis to the terror of the Islamic State is not a great idea.

But it is not a one way street; the Kiwis know the men they are training will be returning to the front line where the lessons they learn could literally make the difference between life and death.

You won’t hear many of them agreeing with NZ First MP Ron Mark’s description of the Iraqi soldiers as cowards.

Maybe Ron could go over and share his views in person!

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?

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?”


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.

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:

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.

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.