The discussion about ‘How to Train a Child’ – the book in Auckland Library that instructs parents to beat children under one year of age with a ‘willowy branch’ – seems to focus on people being ‘offended’ by the book. And of course no book should be removed from the library just because it offends someone. There is no right not to be offended. But infants do have a right not to be beaten with sticks, and children have a right not to be tortured to death – which is what’s happened to some of the children whose parents’ have followed the advice of this book – and that seems like a right libraries should uphold, not undermine.
April 8, 2015
April 5, 2015
The latest idea to sweep Parliament is that Winston Peters will use his victory in Northland to transform New Zealand First into a ‘country party’:
With his talk of “two tiered economies” and “second-class citizens”, Peters is already looking well beyond Northland’s boundaries to sell his message of Government neglect to the inhabitants of other regions, such as Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, eastern Bay of Plenty, Wanganui and the West Coast, who – rightly or wrongly – feel they too have been chucked on the economic scrapheap while metropolitan New Zealand prospers.
What will really be troubling Key, however, is that Peters’ repositioning of New Zealand First as some kind of “Country Party” will see him wreaking havoc behind National’s well-fortified frontline – territory previously considered to be impregnable.
That is Key’s nightmare. Not that he will be allowed to sleep in peace anyway.
The fall of Northland means there will be sleepless nights for nervous National MPs who thought their seats in National’s supposed “heartland” were safe forever.
The National MPs representing all of these heartland seats aren’t likely to resign in disgrace en masse, so Peters will have to wait until 2017 to campaign in them. And let’s say people in those provinces are as excited about Ron Mark and Tracey Martin as they are about Peters himself. And let’s say that Labour doesn’t stand candidates in those seats, or signals that their voters should vote strategically for the NZF candidate. And say that ceteris paribus, Peters wins NINE electorate seats, an astonishing victory. Surely nothing really changes, because he already qualifies for nine list MPs?
Okay. What if he uses these electorate battles to campaign for list votes. ‘Two ticks New Zealand First’. That might be a big deal. But, based on the Northland outcome, the majority of those list votes would come from Labour voters. Labour’s collaboration is vital to the success of Peters’ ‘Country Party’, but in a General Election they’d be the big losers. Wouldn’t they? How would this plan actually work?
April 3, 2015
Here’s a recent story I don’t think got as much attention as it deserved. This piece by Vernon Small revealing Finance Minister Bill English’s role in (basically) bankrupting Solid Energy:
Labour has tabled documents in Parliament showing that ministers put pressure on Solid Energy in 2009 to increase its debt levels and pay bigger dividends, despite warnings a falling coal price could crimp its profits.
Finance Minister Bill English confirmed the instruction in a letter from then State-Owned Enterprises Minister Simon Power to the state coalminer’s chairman, John Palmer.
“The Government, in its first term, looked at SOE balance sheets and decided many of them could carry more debt. It made a decision to allow Solid Energy to take on more debt,” English said.
He had approved a higher debt level in 2009.
Ronald Reagan was once asked if his acting background helped him become US President. Reagan replied, ‘I can’t imagine how anyone who wasn’t an actor could do this job.’
I think about that line whenever I see Bill English talking in his gruff, serious voice about belt-tightening and prudence and fiscal discipline. English is very respected around Parliament and among the pundits: the common-sense, no-nonsense Southland farmer who is balancing the books, running a tight ship, counting every penny etc.
Which is ironic, because English’s performance as Finance Minister has been one multi-billion dollar debacle after another. There was the great tax switch, which was supposed to be revenue neutral and stimulate consumer spending, but which the government still borrows $1.5 billion/year to pay for and which preceded a consumer recession. There was the finance company debacle. The botched partial privitisation of the asset sales. The ongoing housing crisis. The seventy billion dollar debt and series of stealth tax increases and feeble accounting scams to pretend we’re back in ‘surplus’. Now his role in Solid Energy’s collapse.
English’s actual performance as Treasurer is mostly awful but his performance as a dour, gruff very competent and serious Senior Minister is flawless and, politics being what it is, the latter is what counts.
March 30, 2015
Andrew Little signaled to Labour voters in Northland that they should vote for Winston Peters (and they did). So the press gallery and wider punditocracy are all aflutter about Labour’s hypocrisy. ‘They condemned National’s deal with ACT in Epsom,’ the argument goes, ‘But now they’ve done the same thing in Northland! Labour has lost the moral high ground!’
They haven’t done ‘the same thing’, of course. I don’t like Winston Peters or New Zealand First, but it is an actual party that people vote for, and Northland voters were more likely to vote for Peters than any Labour candidate. ACT, on the other hand, is a fake party that no one votes for, lead by nobodies who would never win anything. Epsom voters didn’t vote for David Seymour, they voted for a loophole in the electoral law that benefits National.
Gallery journalists understand this on an intellectual level. They’re smart. But National’s media strategists are smarter. They exploit the anxiety political journalists have of being seen to be partisan. ‘How can you attack our deal but stay silent on theirs? Whaddarya? Biased?’ Journalists and commentators know that if they condemn both deals – or both sides of any other issue even if there is no moral equivalence – then they can’t be accused of media bias. They’re doing their jobs!
This doctrine of false equivalence is National’s most reliable spin-tactic. They trot it out every-time they’re in trouble. Dirty politics? What about that time seven years ago when Mike Williams did something dirty? Tim Groser’s WTO spying scandal? Chris Finlayson instantly implies that ‘Helen Clark did it too’. ‘Labour is just as bad’ is almost always the first excuse out of Key’s mouth, because he knows it is the argument the press gallery will be most sympathetic to.
March 29, 2015
There were a whole lot of counter-balancing things going on in Northland. On one hand it was a super-safe National seat. On the other hand, that whole Sabin thing. But then again, the National Party political machine: Key, Joyce, Crosby/Textor, Curia, shitloads of money – they threw everything at this. But their actual candidate was a total novice going up against Winston Peters. And there was strategic voting. And the media bias against National was overwhelming. And voters could ‘send a message’ without changing the government.
I feel like all of these things should have factored against each other to produce a narrow win for National. Maybe a really narrow contested-on-the-specials win for Peters. And I was wrong. It was a landslide. Two factors counted for a lot more than they should have. They were, I think:
- The National machine under-performed. Not only did they get the tone of their messaging horribly wrong – the bridge bribe, the fleets of crown limos – but the actual on-the-ground organisation was, apparently, a total shambles until the final week of the campaign. People told me that while the campaign was underway and I simply didn’t believe them. How can you pour that much money and that much expertise into something and deliver such a catastrophe?
- Like I said in a previous post, the huge number of Labour supporters who turned out to cast strategic votes for another party in a by-election was (a) decisive and (b) surprising.
What does it all mean? The symbolism is obvious. All the actual result tells us is that in extraordinary circumstances a strong populist conservative candidate can win a seat off National so long as Labour doesn’t contest it.
March 28, 2015
There’s going to be screeds of analysis written about what went wrong for National in Northland. Most of it is, I think, pretty obvious. So two quick points:
- I don’t understand why Peters decided this was a good idea. Maybe he has some clever strategy, or maybe he just saw an opportunity and took it. But this might not work out that well for him in 2017. He’ll be fighting a nation-wide campaign as leader of New Zealand First and a fierce electorate battle. I wonder if Labour will campaign for this electorate in the General election?
- By-elections have very low turnout so they’re all about motivating your base. You can see the strength of National’s campaign machine in the results: the polls had Osbourne at 34% but his actual result is 40% because National is very good at mobilising their voters. Peters still won though, because at least 5000 Labour voters turned out and voted strategically for a candidate from another party. I find this very suspicious and suspect that Peters had extensive support from the Labour Party in this campaign.
I used to buy into this theory that the Greens should stop being a left-wing party and ‘move to the center’ so they could potentially partner with National and thus hold the balance of power. That was back when National was in opposition though. Seven years into their government it’s now apparent that the incompatibility isn’t because the Greens are too left-wing. National cheerfully passed the Maori Party’s Whanua Ora policy, and their flagship policy during the 2014 campaign was free doctor’s visits for children. They’d pass a bunch of Green Party social justice and inequality policies without blinking an eyelid.
The incompatibility is because the Greens are an environmental party and National are committed to an economic model that is fundamentally hostile to environmentalism. Green bottom lines for any coalition deal would start with limiting conversions to dairying and forcing farmers to pay for the environmental costs of their herds. Pricing carbon. Reducing Greenhouse emissions. Protecting the RMA. Banning offshore oil exploration.
It is really hard to imagine National and the Greens reaching any kind of compromise on these issues. The Greens can ‘move to the center’ all they like – it’s their environmentalism that makes a coalition with National impossible.
March 26, 2015
One of the odd things about this campaign has been Steven Joyce’s super-prominent role in it. John Key has been out of the country for most of the by-election and Joyce has stepped in and filled the vacuum, evidently deciding that his candidate wasn’t up to the task.
Which was an odd call. A by-election run on local issues is a weird time for a party strategist from outside the electorate to step out of the shadows and make it really pointedly evident that his candidate is a total puppet. It’s a decision that – I think – has nothing to do with strategy and everything to do with psychology. It must be frustrating for Joyce to keep winning election campaigns and then have Key receive all the credit. This time, Joyce must have thought, I’ll make them see that I’m the mastermind who delivers the victories. Which is fine if that’s what he does on Saturday, but if they lose then Joyce’s rather self-indulgent decision to become the face of the campaign will be one of the reasons behind the defeat.
Here’s the tracking poll updated for the first time since the election.
- I’ve switched off bias-correction because it wasn’t a very good predictor of the actual outcome in 2014.
- Labour have almost won back the support they lost by putting Cunliffe in charge
- New Zealand First outperformed the polls during the last two general elections. The theory is that his demographic of older voters votes in a greater proportion than the general population.
- What does that mean for Northland? Possibly nothing because the majority of people voting for him won’t be traditional New Zealand First voters. But it makes me less certain of a National win. They’re a long way behind in the polls and people who vote for Peters do turn out. I’m a lot less certain.
I think the celebrity bloke is a modern phenomenon. Jeremy Clarkson will go down as being the canonical version, but we have/had Paul Holmes, Paul Henry, Mike Hosking etc, all pretty much the same template: conservative bigoted multi-millionaires closely allied with the establishment who are, paradoxically, beloved by the general public as mavericks and rebels speaking truth to power by insulting – or, in Clarkson’s case actually beating up – people who are powerless.