- James Shaw won. I think/hope he’ll be very good. Although, being a political leader is an odd, demanding job. It changes people. You never know how new leaders will do until they’ve done it for a while.
- But beating Kevin Hague is a promising sign. Hague was a very tough, smart, well organised, experienced opponent. We didn’t realise just how formidable he was until the three-month long campaign was well under-way. James was seen as a risky newcomer, and the only way he stood a chance against Hague was to take some risks but never make a mistake. And it’s very easy for candidates to make mistakes when they’re giving daily speeches, engaging on social media and trying to get their name out in the mainstream media. James did everything right. I really hope he keeps doing that.
- There was also an element of luck. Part of Kevin Hague’s pitch was that he had parliamentary experience but James didn’t. Kevin was ‘ready to go on day one’. Then, in the crucial final weeks the Saudi sheep story broke. It was James’s portfolio. He was ‘strong in the House’ and got good media coverage so the key attack line against him disintegrated.
- Although, the ability to identify opportunities and seize them is also a useful quality in a leader. So, again, promising.
- I’m also happy to see that one of the key platforms of James’s campaign – that he performed well in the general election and got loads of people to vote for his party – was successful. I think one of the reasons that the left is struggling, both here and in other anglo-countries is that there isn’t enough emphasis on campaign skills and public popularity. Power within left-wing political parties is too often won by appealing to factions or affiliates – like unions – instead of the ability to connect with the public. A lot of senior Labour and Green MPs do very poorly in electoral terms but continue to rise through the ranks. So I’m very happy that – in the Green Party at least – the members have sent a signal that if they ever want to be leader, MPs need to go out and win votes.
- I’ll try not to write about Green Party issues too much from now on. I don’t want to be re-posting their press releases, or become one of those guys who helps write a speech and then jumps on their blog to lavish praise on it.
May 31, 2015
May 27, 2015
This is a weird little story slowly evolving into a major scandal. It’s complicated, but worth it. Most of the reporting has come from Heather du Plessis-Allan and Matthew Hooton:
- Back in 2003 New Zealand stopping exporting live sheep to Saudi Arabia
- According to Hooton (his stories are paywalled at the NBR), a very wealthy and influential Saudi businessman named Hmood Al Khalaf, who had a business importing sheep contacted National when they were in opposition, and John Key and David Carter privately assured him that exports would resume when National came to power.
- When National won the election in 2008, Al Khalaf supposedly invested tens of millions of dollars in New Zealand farmland and a ship that could transport sheep to Saudi Arabia. But National didn’t change the law.
- So Al Khalaf hired Mai Chen to prepare a lawsuit against the government, claiming for ‘between $20 million and $30 million. He also, allegedly, used his influence in Saudi Arabia to block a free trade deal between New Zealand and the Gulf States.
- Here’s where it gets good.
- McCully has just admitted that he didn’t take any legal advice on the strength of Al Khalaf’s claim. Instead he arranged for MFAT and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to ‘invest’ $11.5 million dollars in a ‘bold and courageous’ Agrihub in the middle of the Arabian desert on property owned by Al Khalaf. You can view recent satellite photos of the ‘Agrihub’ on google maps, here.
- We also bought a number of Suffolk Ewes – bred for cold conditions – off a company part owned by Al Khalaf and flew them to Saudi Arabia in an air-conditioned Singapore Air plane. They now allegedly reside at the Agrihub, where daytime temperatures average 50 degrees Celsius.
- The Agrihub is (a) designed to be a regional showcase for New Zealand farming techniques and technologies and (b) is not accessible because it is on private property in the middle of the desert.
- It sounds a lot like we just gave this guy $11 million dollars, doesn’t it?
May 26, 2015
Here’s the non-bias corrected aggregate of the polls:
Here’s what National were talking about this time eight years ago, when they were in opposition:
The state of Lake Hawea reported in weekend media shows the country is still facing a serious hydro-power shortage this winter, says National Party Energy spokesman Gerry Brownlee.
“Contact says it is very likely that Lake Hawea will have to be drawn down to its lowest level in 26 years just to maintain power supplies.
“The Electricity Commission – which has the say in determining if the lake can be drawn down below its 338m minimum operating level – now has to state if that is in fact its determination.
“If so, that would be confirmation that New Zealand is currently in a crisis situation.
“Overall, New Zealand’s hydro-lake levels are at just 56% of capacity. The Labour Government’s attitude seems to be that with the recent rains the risk of blackouts this winter has receded.
Figures obtained by the National Party show the number of times hospitals are being forced into ‘Code Red’ because they can’t cope with patient demand is on the increase.
“Despite the billions of extra funding and the thousands of extra bureaucrats – our health services continue to lurch from one crisis to the next. Now the public is discovering that our hospitals are having troubling coping even before the winter flu season starts,” says National’s Health spokesman, Tony Ryall.
National has received information under the Official Information Act which shows that Capital and Coast Health in Wellington has had more ‘Code Reds’ more frequently this year than last.
“And that’s before the winter crop of illness strikes.”
The figures show there were 10 ‘Code Reds’ at Wellington Hospital in February this year and six in March. Last year, numbers peaked at six in the months of September and November.
The Labour Government’s admission that it is losing the war against methamphetamine can in a large part be sheeted home to the fact that Labour has failed to do anything substantial to tackle gangs, says National’s Justice & Corrections spokesman, Simon Power.
Police Minister Annette King admitted today that strategies to combat the billion-dollar trade in ‘P’ are not working.
“This should come as no surprise to anyone, considering their failure to act on gangs for the past nine years. And even now they are still backing off a number of proposals to tackle gangs.”
Labour’s recent press releases are here. The difference is stark. National attacked the competency of the government to govern. Overflowing hospitals! Gangs running the streets! Power crisis! While Labour constantly attacks the morality and character of the government. Broken promises! Key is blaming his new tax on a fruit-fly! National is kicking hard-working whanau!
Voters get that the opposition parties don’t like the government. But they also don’t give a shit because as far as they can tell the government are governing things pretty well. Why would they change?
May 22, 2015
- There’s a Herald summary here.
- I’ve been saying for a while that ‘neoliberalism’ – ie a belief in the efficacy of free markets, the distortionary evil of taxes and benefits and the minimalisation of the state – is dead. There are still a few adherents drifting around the fringes of politics that truly believe, but this budget seems like a good time to mark that in National the doctrine is obsolete. National believes in massive intervention in the economy, mostly in favor of their political donors but also in response to signals from their polling and market research, and English has raised or introduced so many taxes I’ve lost count. I don’t know what we’re supposed to call this mode of government, exactly, but it ain’t ‘neoliberal’.
- So, on one hand the opposition can put this budget down as a victory. They’ve made a big deal about the housing crisis and child poverty, and the government’s main policy changes have been the introduction of a capital gains tax and an increase in benefits to beneficiaries with families. Forcing your enemies to adopt your rhetoric and policies is a huge win.
- On the other hand, the opposition looked like clueless losers yesterday. What kind of left-wing politician opposes the gutting of the KiwiSaver kickstarter – pretty much the definition of middle-class welfare – to tackle child poverty?
- And I hate that Labour’s bought into National’s rhetoric about the cosmic importance of getting back to surplus. I get that they see it as a chance to damage Key and English on their economic credibility – but it totally buys into National’s framing of government as a small business where the critical thing is to balance the books. We just saw an election in the UK in which Labour became deficit hawks, because they thought the public would like it, and they still got utterly slaughtered.
- And Little’s speech was just awful. ‘Gene Simmons’? ‘Fiscal gender reassignment’? Why did he think it was a good idea to reference a source of internal division within his own party? What a mess.
- The kids on the social media like to use the phrase ‘hot take’ to describe commentary that is hysterical and uninformed, and that’s what we got from the opposition parties yesterday, gouging their own eyes out with horror at a budget filled with ideas they’ve been demanding for years. Ridiculous.
May 18, 2015
Louis XIVths Finance Minister once said, ‘the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.’
What strikes me about the government’s new tax – which is totally not a capital gains tax – is that (a) it will probably not deliver any feathers, because property speculators can just defer their sales to avoid the tax, but (b) there is now a ‘brightline’ tax on capital gains instead of a huge nebulous loophole, and this is a big deal on a psychological and political level. It means that subsequent governments – or maybe even this one – can incrementally increase the two year limit out to five years, ten years, then no limit, and New Zealand will have a realised capital gains tax on secondary property.
Yes, the way it came about is absurd. Labour campaigned on a Capital Gains Tax. National opposed it. More than opposed – they tore Labour apart over it. So Labour abandoned it and now National’s introduced a dummy one. Someone else will give it teeth. But it will, eventually, mean our tax system is a little bit fairer.
May 11, 2015
There’s loads of analysis about on the outcome of the election in the UK; most of it is focused on Labour. What went wrong? Did they choose the wrong Miliband brother? Should they return to Blairism? And so on.
Seems to me that one of Labour’s biggest problems – both here and in the UK – is that they’re faced with an opponent that is (a) better resourced than them and (b) uses those resources to make themselves far, far better at politics than their left-wing opponents.
Just after his election victory David Cameron announced that the UK was ‘on the brink of something special’. Key has been promising New Zealand we’re on ‘The cusp of something special’. The messaging is consistently similar. The Conservative Party’s strategy in the UK election was pretty much the same as National’s strategy last year. It’s because they have the same strategic advisers of course – the infamous Crosby/Textor, who are also very active in Australian Federal and state elections.
Which gives their clients a huge advantage. Not only can they deliver data and market-research driven advice, they can trial-run lines and strategies across multiple separate-but-similar electorates, hone the techniques and sell successful ideas on to their other clients – who are all right-wing parties that want to see each other succeed.
Often when something goes wrong for John Key and the media goes ballistic, Key will often ‘talk past’ the media and deliver lines directly to the voters. And it always works. He gets to do that because of a huge wealth of empirical data about how voters react to different issues, gleaned from years of study across these multiple electorates.
Labour and the other opposition parties in these other electorates can’t do that. And it shows. They’re forced to experiment, releasing policies or taking positions on issues on a trial basis. Will the public like it? Do they respond? And if the media reaction is critical then they reverse position. They’re playing a complex game in which they know the desired outcome, but not the actual rules, against opponents who know the rulebook back-to-front as well as all the loopholes.
There are other structural factors at work, of course. But the triumph of empirically based political strategy and messaging is a very big deal that’s getting missed alongside all the chatter about Labour ‘moving to the left, or the center’ etc.
May 8, 2015
A few people have asked me what’s happening with the leadership campaign. And the answer is: it’s pretty much happening now. The actual delegate vote takes place at the Green Party AGM at the end of the month, but the branch meetings where members direct their delegates how to vote are already underway. So if you’re a member of the party – or want to be so you can have a say in the contest – get in touch with your local branch.
I’ve been helping James Shaw out with his campaign. Up until now its been impossible to tell how things are going, but now that the branches are voting we have a rough idea and I am cautiously optimistic. It’s going to be close but James could win. My reason for supporting him over Kevin Hague – who I have a huge amount of respect for – is pretty simple. The key role of a leader in a modern political party is to be the public face of that party, to front to the media and the public, and to win new voters. Maybe I’m just blinded by partisan bias, but I think James is going to be a lot better in that core role than the other candidates.
That doesn’t mean he’ll win. Kevin Hague also has a lot of great qualities, and they make him one of the most beloved guys inside the Green Party – which gives him a big advantage in a contest to become leader of it. But being the leader is about connecting with the public, not just the party’s own membership. The best thing for the future of the Green Party is to elect a leader who can grow it.
May 3, 2015
Fran O’Sullivan writes:
Bill English is a no-nonsense and well-grounded politician. He has built a strong reputation for prudent fiscal management since he became Finance Minister
I don’t think English’s failure to reach surplus means much, because the goal was always just a meaningless PR gimmick. But imagine what O’Sullivan would say about a Labour Finance Minister who borrowed $100 billion dollars, ran seven deficits in a row and failed to achieve their primary economic ambition after running an election campaign around it. She’d be on the streets throwing molotov cocktails at riot police, trying to save the nation from the lunatic wrecking the economy, not openly fantasising about them becoming Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, Matthew Hooton, David Farrar, and whatever National Party spin-doctor wrote Rodney Hide’s HoS column this week have convinced themselves – or, at least, are trying to convince everyone else – that National’s humiliating defeat in the Northland by-election was a disaster for . . . the Labour Party. The logic here is that the two polls subsequent to the election have Labour down, slightly, and Winston Peters is just below Andrew Little as preferred Prime Minister. Northland was a tactical victory, Farrar explains, but a strategic failure.
I still think the big tactical and strategic failure here is the National government giving up its parliamentary majority only a few months into its term by losing one of the safest seats in the country. Spectacular failure, in the face of which Labour’s dip in the polls two-and-a-half years out from an election is as meaningless as, well, English’s budget surplus. We saw this stuff from Hooton, Farrar et al during the Goff and Shearer leaderships. Next it’ll be ‘Trading on iPredict shows a coup is underway in Labour!’
I don’t think Labour minds Peters’ current ascendancy. Their thinking is (I think) that Labour needs to win votes off National, but that those swing voters are very wary of the Greens without whom Labour can’t form a government. So a robust New Zealand First as a potential coalition partner might be good for Labour.
Update: Matthew Hooton is bewildered by my scepticism. Isn’t Little’s blunder really obvious? Wouldn’t it have been smarter of him to tour Northland in a big red bus getting great exposure talking about poverty and economic development?
The answer is no. If Little spent the Northland by-election campaigning in an electorate he wasn’t standing in and split the vote handing the seat back to National, every commentator in the country – including Hooton and David Farrar – would have called him a moron. And if the polls dipped afterwards, for whatever reason – economic data, statistical noise – then there would be very loud questions about his leadership in the aftermath of such a catrastrophic blunder, instead of a bunch of National Party activists making trouble.
April 29, 2015
Our political leaders are constantly assuring us they’re ‘raising human rights’ with places like Saudi Arabia, or China, or wherever, and I today I find myself wondering how this plays out in reality.
Does the PM actually say to someone like the King of Saudi Arabia, ‘Saudia Arabia should stop torturing and beheading gay people?’ Or do our diplomatic officials tell their officials ‘Prime Minister Key will make a brief statement to your leader about the importance of democracy and equality. He is required to make this for domestic political purposes. No response is necessary.’ And then Key or Clark or whoever reads a bit of rhetoric off a card. ‘Although you have made great progress in this area there is work to be done . . .’
Or is it looser than that? Does our PM just say, ‘Your Ambassador assures me that you are committed to democratic reforms and human rights and we congratulate your Majesty on this and fully support your endeavors,’ and turn around and assure the press that they’ve ‘raised human rights’.
I feel like it’s the last, isn’t it?
April 24, 2015
The other interesting (to me) thing about ponytailgate, or whatever we’re supposed to call it, is how the story broke. Normally when someone has a scandal like this (I know – there is no other scandal like this) they take it to someone in the mainstream media. But if Amanda Bailey did that, then whatever journalist she gave her story to would, routinely, call the Prime Minister and ask for comment – at which point the National Party communications machine would roar to life and devote all of its energy and power into shutting the story down, or litigating it down to nothing. They may have succeeded. They’re very good at that stuff.
If you take it to a blogger then that check for a balancing comment doesn’t happen. Bloggers don’t play by the rules. But what they do – and I’m thinking of Cameron Slater here, as well as his homologues overseas – is insert themselves into the story. They write it up, in imitation of a mainstream media story and then accompany it with commentary and interviews on the MSM outlets they affect to despise, and attempt to frame the story and promote themselves. In Slater’s case that tends to dilute the story since the attack is so clearly partisan and motivated by malice.
Bomber didn’t do that. Instead he simply published the waitress’s own account as a primary, information-rich source that the mainstream media could base their stories off. Reporters called the PM, but the scandal had already broken and the media were all matching each other’s stories. It couldn’t be shut down. And Bomber kept himself out of it all. That approach – publish a primary source and make it available to all media simultaneously – turned out to be a really awesome way to get the story out there.