Wednesday, August 2, 2017


By the end of this week, a quantity of ink fit to fill Lake Rotoiti - and sufficient electrons to power Tiwai Point for about the space of half an hour - will no doubt have been marshalled in service of commentating upon what Jacinda Ardern's 'shock' elevation to the leadership of Labour means for that party. And, for that matter, the prospects of actually securing 'progressive' governance in 2017.

The key questions are whether Ardern will be able to grow Labour's vote - and, just as importantly, whether that growth will come from voters who've recently chosen to switch over to The Greens ... or from parties beyond the MoU that's somehow apparently at the heart of the politics of 'hope' these days.

Those aforementioned analyses by other luminaries of the Beltway people-watching bird-blind will focus upon the above questions.

My attention is on something different.

Namely, what the promotion of Ardern and Davis to the Leadership might mean for two parties which look set to cause an 'upset' later this year - New Zealand First, and MANA.

We shall start with the simpler query - what effect Davis as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party will likely have in Te Tai Tokerau.

There is an argument, to be sure, that the additional prominence and mana afforded to Labour's Deputy Leader will provide a potential boost for Davis in what's set to be quite a hard-fought campaign against the previous representative of the seat, Hone Harawira.

But along with a position that is perhaps more commensurate with his abilities than those he has previously enjoyed in Labour, comes an interesting elevation in list position. In specia, according to rule 8.45.1 of the Labour Party's Constitution, Davis is now set to be the party's number two candidate.

This is potentially problematic for the previously arranged trajectory of Davis' campaign. As the reason he'd previously chosen to not be on the List in the first place was in order to attempt to counter the 'strategic vote-splitting' to get 'two for the price of one' which has come to characterize the thought-process of quite a number of voters in the Maori Seats. The thinking prior to this year's Election was that you could quite happily improve the representation of your electorate through giving your candidate vote to the local non-Labour hopeful [either Maori Party or MANA] to help them get in - whilst giving your party vote to Labour to attempt to ensure that the electorate's Labour candidate would also get in via the Party List. Labour sought to put a stop to that by having its entire slate of Maori Seat incumbents [i.e. not Tamati Coffey - who's in a potentially rather ambitious position of number 34 at present] stand as electorate-only candidates; in order to 'force' Maori Roll voters to vote for them if they wanted them, rather than vote-splitting in a way that would advantage Labour's opponents in Maori politics.

Harawira therefore had something of an uphill fight on his hands - going up against, as he was, a positively regarded and competent-appearing incumbent who'd quite literally be out of Parliament if the local electors did not back him. The notion that Davis is now 'safe' [insofar as anybody on Labour's list is actually 'safe' at this point - there are somewhat reputable projections based on present polling which has them struggling to get even a single List MP ...] regardless of what happens in Te Tai Tokerau may instead convince TTT voters that their interests are better served by maximizing their Parliamentary 'firepower' - through backing Hone to get him back into Parliament.

And certainly, particularly given Harawira's firebrand record, and strong advocacy work [when he was absent in Parliament - he appears to have almost invariably been performing constituency work up North in one form or another], there's a pretty strong argument that his being back in Parliament *alongside* Davis would represent an unvarnished positive for the people of one of New Zealand's most marginalized constituencies.

So all up ... have yesterday's events helped MANA's chances of re-entering Parliament? Potentially.

Political events in 2017 are now well beyond a phase wherein seemingly anyone sane would actually place money on their outcome ... but I'd say the odds are now better than even of Harawira returning to Parliament in September thanks to this result.

An interesting question going forward will be whether Labour seeks to persist with their un-listed number strategy for Davis despite the wording of their own constitution. I have not engaged in an in-depth reading of the Labour Party's constitution to see if their national decision-making body has the power to override their constitution seemingly at-will in the same way the NZ First Party's constitution does.

Meanwhile, where things get unutterably more complex is attempting to augur just how Ardern/Davis will likely impact New Zealand First over the course of this campaign.

It would be tempting to conclude that due to the severely different constituencies and style between Ardern and Winston, that there would be 'no change' in NZ First's fortunes as a result of what's happened. However, I do not necessarily believe that this is accurate.

For a start, Davis has a strong appeal on both 'law and order' and 'regional development' issues - areas that NZ First has attempted to stake out as cornerstone territory over the course of the last Parliamentary Term, and the last few weeks in particular.

However, on the other hand, given Ardern's overall appearance as something of a 'Grey Lynn Liberal', it is perhaps possible that voters out there in Regional/Rural New Zealand who might otherwise have been considering Labour [I'm sure there are more than a few], may instead decide that - particularly in concert with The Greens - that Labour is potentially a 'bridge too far' for their support this time around.

The natural beneficiary of this trend, should it eventuate, will of course be New Zealand First. As out in those electoral 'hill country' seats, where ELSE are people angry about the Government but leery about Urban Liberalism going to go?

One specific seat wherein this might very much play out is the Wairarapa - which, as I covered last week, is presently in the midst of a three-way struggle between Ron Mark, National's Alaistar Scott, and the assembled might of whatever Labour can throw there in pursuit of third place. If Labour finds itself having greater difficulty reaching out to rural-regional voters as a result of their transition [and honestly, in the Wairarapa, the consistent downwards tracking of their vote suggests they were finding it hard enough as-is], then the logical beneficiary of this will be Ron Mark - who needs to keep pulling votes from both National and Labour in order to win the seat off Scott.

On the other hand, it is possible that any 'revitalization' of Labour's fortunes and image which occurs as a result of the changing of the guard and/or deckchairs atop a certain large ocean-going vessel may in fact wind up leading folk who want 'strong opposition' away from supporting the party actually presently LEADING the Opposition [i.e. New Zealand First], and back towards the organization which holds somewhat nominal claim to the Parliamentary position associated with same.

There are also an array of projections about what Ardern/Davis taking over from Little[/Ardern] may mean in terms of Coalition prospects in the event that Labour and the Greens are actually in a position to form a Government with New Zealand First in seven weeks' time. Some suspect that Ardern's relative youth and alleged 'inexperience' may make it easier for NZ First to secure concessions from the Labour-Greens bloc [potentially up to and including what's rapidly become a meme at this point - in the form of asking for, and receiving, the Prime Minister-ship]. Although to that I can only note that I'm not entirely sure what's changed from the start of the week - Ardern has actually been in Parliament three years LONGER than Andrew Little, for a start.

In any case, one of the dominant questions on my newsfeed this morning basically ran "What on EARTH is Labour Thinking?!"

With the above thoughts outlined, perhaps the better question ought be what Hone and Winston are saying privately as of right now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Every Election, there's a seat or several whose outcomes are fantastically interesting to watch. This is because they are the ones that are actually balanced upon the knife-edge - where a few dozen votes one way or 'tuther will actually help to determine the shape and course of our politics for years or even decades to come.

Customarily, attention is placed upon a handful of 'well-known' 'hot-spots'. I hardly need to cite their names: Ohariu, Te Tai Tokerau and Auckland Central spring instantly to mind, and we can probably add other 'swing' seats like Maungakiekie to that list. Further, as developments in Northland in early 2015 so amply demonstrate ... sometimes even the perceived 'safe' or outright 'fortress' seats can be the ones where History finds its 'first draft' authoring happening.

But there are other, lesser known battlegrounds who - whilst they might not immediately spring to mind - will be just as important in directing where things will go from here in our politics.

One of these is the Lower North Island seat of Wairarapa.

Now, conventional wisdom holds that this is a relatively 'safe' Blue seat. As the old saying goes, you could stand a stuffed poodle in the electorate - and provided it was wearing a National rosette, it would probably win.

This metaphor has found new currency in the person of Alastair Scott - who manages to combine the classical Nat 'born to rule' mentality [i.e. the 'poodle' genetics and hairdo] with a complete lack of actual action or interest in the affairs of his Electorate [as in - he's "stuffed" in  one or possibly two senses].

What this means in practice is, serious political observers are asking searching questions about whether we might once again see this seat change to a colour that's something other than Blue.

And to be fair, it wasn't that long ago [a mere twelve years] that this seat was the relatively safe demesne of Georgina Byer. I won't say it was a "Labour Seat", because from those I've talked to it appears more that Wairarapians were motivated to vote for the candidate and their own personal merits rather than those of her Party. [A fact which may be further adduced by Byer consistently scoring several thousand more candidate votes than Labour picked up for Party votes - a pattern which promptly reversed itself as soon as Labour attempted to stand a non-Byer candidate in that Electorate in 2005].

But looking forward to later this year, it is not the resurrection of Labour fortunes that I am predicting - although there seems little doubt that the serious challenger to Scott shares one feature in common with Byer ... that of also being a former Mayer of Carterton.

However, for those of us seeking to roll National's Alaistar Scott, there is a bit of a fly in the ointment. One other than Scott himself, I mean.

You see, the Wairarapa has hitherto fallen prey to what we might term "Epsom-Ohariu-Central" disease. A most curious malady, wherein the combined vote-totals for the two or more non-Government parties easily exceeds the figure which the questionably popular Nat(-supporting) reprobate gets ... but due to somebody's pig-headedness leading to vote-splitting - the ACT, United Future, or Nat candidate keeps winning regardless.

Ordinarily, the 'spoiler' figure is the Greens' local representative. In Ohariu, for instance, at literally every single election since the seat came back into existence, Peter Dunne would have been GONE but for whichever errant Green standard-bearer was running taking votes away from the Labour Party's candidate. And in Auckland Central likewise - at every election since Labour last held the seat under Judith Tizard, it's been a strong Greens vote that's rendered the Labourites unable to overtake Nikki Kaye. Epsom, of course, is a little bit different - in that it's the National candidate rather than Labour who's triennially robbed of a victory he quite plainly doesn't want - but is otherwise an instance of the exact same pattern.

Northland nearly fell victim to the same disease in 2015 - but with Labour quite sensibly deciding to functionally pull their candidate [thus reducing Labour's electorate votes from 8969 the year before to 1380 in the by-election], such a fate was happily avoided. And the course of New Zealand politics arguably shifted rather more than slightly towards a better future with a more marginalized National Party. Hopefully, anyway.

All of which bring us back handily to Wairarapa later this year.

Now, a cursory analysis of electoral results for the last twenty years shows that Labour has CONSISTENTLY been losing both Electorate and Party votes there since their peak in 1999. Admittedly, they continued to hold the seat right up until 2005 - but with the departure of the aforementioned Georgina Byer, apart from one brief relative surge of a mighty 837 candidate votes between 2005 and 2008, their overall trend has just been down, down, down. Finally falling into the single-digit thousands at the last election with their this year's candidate, Kieran McAnulty.

They're now on 9,452 and 25.41% for the candidate vote [a slippage of 6.23% from the previous election], and 7,712 and 20.56% for the party vote [minus 2.74% from 2011].

Or, in other words, the odds of McAnulty (who I hear's a nice guy,  by the way) somehow managing to make up the quite substantial 6,771 and 18.20% gap between himself and National's Alaister Scott ... are perhaps rather long. Particularly given the observable swing against Labour in both rural seats and nationwide that some pundits have noted.

But hark. A Challenger appears. Looking at Ron Mark's results for the same election - 8,630 votes and 23.20% [both rather mark-ed increases on NZ First's previous results in the electorate and part of an ongoing upward trend] - it's quite frankly re-mark-able that he managed such an incredibly strong result despite only announcing his candidacy a mere twenty five days out from the Election. This is particularly the case when we consider that his two main opponents [one each from Labour and National - the good old "coca-cola/pepsi tag-team"] had been actively campaigning and engaged in the electorate for most of the previous three years.

Now imagine just how well Ron is poised to do, given he's been an MP for the Wairarapa for the last three years - and the number of issues like local opposition to forced amalgamation of local body authorities, and fighting for improved infrastructure, where he's been able to take the leading representing the views and voices of his constituents. Indeed, looking at his intensive efforts on this front over the past term, you'd probably be forgiven for thinking he actually already WAS the elected electorate MP for the area.

Adding to this, we have the fact that by almost any poll or talkback radio reconnaissance, New Zealand First is absolutely surging. This is particularly the case in rural seats, as it should be, and I would dare say that a Government-neglected region like the Wairarapa will quite likely be leading the pack.

I therefore think it's pretty fair to state that Ron's in with a serious shot. Not least because of the striking number of folks down there who appear to be considerably more enthused about Ron than they are about Winston or the rest of the Party. I had a hard time keeping track of the number of people who straight-up told us when we were doorknocking there last year that they were reluctant to vote for New Zealand First, but would have absolutely no problem supporting Ron when it came to the crunch.

Or, in other words, I'd hazard that Ron Mark is far more capable of drawing in soft-Nat support than Kieran McAnulty is. And the stats from 2014 showing Ron doing twice as well as McAnulty when it came to bringing in votes from outside his own party go some ways towards proving this.

So with all of this in mind, you'd think that the immediately obvious thing for Labour to do if they were really interested in removing the National party carbuncle from the seat ... would be to hang up their shoes and run a party-vote only campaign. Doing as they so successfully did in Northland in 2015, and allowing Our Man Ron a clear shot at taking down the local Nat baronobody.

But unfortunately, there are few things more prone to self-defeating fits of 'pride' than a man backed into a corner - and as far as I can tell, the local Labour Party just isn't getting the message. Instead, they're calling in favours and rattling chains to try and get as high a profile of support-crew for McAnulty as they possibly can. Which thus far amounts to two local Mayors - Lynn Patterson, the incumbent Mayor of Masterton and one of her predecessors, Bob Francis - attempting to rally otherwise flagging support for McAnulty's campaign.

It's a free country and a free election, of course (subject to the limits of the Electoral Finance Act and occasional legal threats for playing a song which demeans the government) - but those Labour-people out there attempting to desperately corral Wairarapians into the polling booths for McAnulty really do need to sit down and ask themselves whether what they're doing is really going to help unseat Alastair Scott come September.

Particularly as an argument can quite easily be mounted that attempting to 'rope in' well-known local figures on one's side when you're flagging in the polls in a manner that suggests you've Red Peaked ... may very well be read as a sign of implicit desperation.

Now obviously, when it comes to matters electoral, i'm slightly biased. I genuinely do not like the National Party, and have not infrequently been of the opinion that some parts of the Labour Party can be little better.

But to accomplish the great and mighty deed of rolling National in the Wairarapa (a victory which will have flow-on strategic effects for the rest of the country), it is necessary for ALL us non-Government supporters to work together. We've got to unite behind the one candidate in this electorate who's actually capable of drawing votes from Labour, National, New Zealand First and elsewhere in order to actually outnumber Scott's share of the vote.

In short, we've got to send the Nats a message. Together, with one voice. Namely - that on September 23rd ... Alaistar Scott is Gone!

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Kiwi Motörhead - New Zealand First Convention Coverage 2017

I realized something the other day. New Zealand First is basically the Kiwi Politics equivalent to Motorhead. And while I'd not be entirely surprised as to which of Winston or Lemmy would be more potentially insulted by a comparison to the other ... even looking beyond the black-and-white colour-scheme, snaggly-toothed attitude, and frequent fan-base amongst West Auckland, there are some rather overt similarities.

Prime among these is that the stereotypical statement on Motorhead's several decades of musical output which I've now heard from any number of musical critics - that they've basically released the same album over and over again for much of the last thirty years - also applies just as evenly to New Zealand First seemingly every electoral cycle.

Standing there on Sunday afternoon listening to the latest in a long line of Winston Convention-Campaign stump-speeches, this struck me as perhaps the best characterization for what I was witnessing.

Consider several of the key points of policy which he announced: a referendum on the Maori Seats, another referendum on the size of Parliament, and the movement away from Westpac to having KiwiBank as the Government's official banker.

There are some tweaks inherent in each of them [for example, the referendum on the Maori Seats policy now makes no mention of it being a plebiscite only for Maori; and the commentary on reducing the size of Parliament has moved from attempting to uphold a previous referendum result that's now nearly two decades old - and to seeking a new mandate for the policy entirely] ... but I had heard it all before.

The pattern repeats with many of the other 'big name' bottom-line announcements we've seen from New Zealand First over the course of the most recent campaign cycle are similar re-rubs on old classics. The call to massively bolster our police numbers, for instance, is a fairly direct encore-reprise of something which NZ First both promised - and, more importantly, successfully delivered on - in 2005 immediately before entering into a C&S agreement with the Labour Party. [Which uh .. happened to shut out The Greens after quite a prolonged period of bad-blood and mutual bollocking between the parties. Which appears to be playing upon the mind of at least one of our organizations rather much this month]

And as applies the other substantive comments to be found in Winston's speech yesterday, I literally found myself describing it to an associate who was also there as being a cursory play-through of "Winston's Greatest Hits". It was all there: forceful statements on immigration [although interestingly nuanced, perhaps in response to the Greens' immanent critique. More on that later]; serious commitments to economic justice through opposing foreign ownership and corporate raids disguised as investment; anguished howls about unrepresentative bureaucrats and other (not always unelected) decision-makers being seriously out of touch with the opinion of the ordinary Kiwi; up-to-the-minute cutting references to his opponents; and an absolute, evangelist's insistence upon rolling back both Rogernomics and Ruthanasia in order to institute a proper, post-Neoliberal economic paradigm.

Obviously, that last one was mostly phrased in words of not more than two syllables and bereft of such 'technocratic' jargon.

But lest my Kilmister comparison be received as an insult ... that is not necessarily the spirit in which it was intended.

The plain fact about Motorhead's discography - and why they continued to be such a powerful force for so many decades up until Lemmy's untimely death as part of the huge wave of celebrity-mortalities around 2016 - is that nobody especially minded that they were doing the same thing over and over again every three years ago. Because they not only did it well [with enough subtle tweaks to ensure it wasn't *literally* the same album being re-released over and over], but because too much 'innovation' would arguably have moved the band a little too far from what it actually *was* in the first place. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and all that. We *wanted* to hear Lemmy belt out his old classics in amidst 'new' material that could have been written the same decade or even the same day as the standards.

So it is with Winston.

In whose case, to be fair to him, he is arguably quite justified in re-hashing many of the same themes and talking points Election after Election ... because in many cases, serious action hasn't actually been undertaken by any other party to meaningfully address these issues.

In other words, 'the repeats will continue, until circumstances improve'.

But having said that, there were some interesting differences between Winston Peters Circa 2017 and previous commentaries running right the way back to when I first heard him give a Convention Address what seems like half a lifetime ago in 2010.

Then, the clear vibe was that we were "the resistance". And that, not to put too fine a point on it, the forces being "resisted" weren't just economic or those of the political establishment ['beltway' or otherwise]. Instead, the very nature of causality - of political physics, and the received and applied common wisdom of just about every two-bit commentariat-hack in the land - was what we were seeking to struggle against. To create something unprecedented as a historico-political moment by getting back into Parliament from penury.

And, as it happened, we did. 2011-era Winston taking on the air of a triumphant pro-democracy rebel rolling into some Arab despot's capital somewhere. That's not mere illustrative hyperbole on my part - he literally got up at our 2011 Convention and promised a "Pacific Summer" to follow the "Arab Spring", and doing to our Government in a matter of weeks what it had taken the people of Libya some months if not years to do.

Considering the oblique state of Libya today, wherein reasonably broad swathes of the country seem far worse off now than they ever were under Gaddaffi, it is perhaps for the best that nobody other than some of us grumbly old veterans remember such things.

But if 2009-2011 Winston thought of his political movement as being akin to a guerilla-insurgent band 'off up in the hills' [also a Winston quote - at that point he was comparing himself to Fidel Castro's forces about to take on Batista]; then 2013-2014 Winston was putting on a rather different set of tropes. Here, it was the rallying-cry of a force which had made it back into the heart of Kiwi Politics - and which was absolutely adamant that our voice would be heard. The commentary at the time from those On High was based around the perceived probability of either being able to get an excellent deal by working with others ... or standing strong - alone - and still finding our vocative exploration of principles decidedly hard to ignore.

2017 Winston, by contrast, is seriously different. It's no longer a case of attempting to storm back into Parliament. And even if some might argue that the desire to 'do the impossible' [according to the previously received wisdom, anyway] is still at the heart of his Convention-Day Message ... nowadays, when it comes to his stated desire for New Zealand First to *be* the Government rather than merely form a bolt-on part thereof ... well, it's not like these days anybody's seriously ruling it out.

Will it happen? Who knows. But like I say - it was definitely an interesting change of vibe. [Also rather amusing for me personally, as I've been pushing the whole "New Zealand First Government" line internally for some years now, as a habitual response to the travails and serious risks of stuffing up the Party's long-term prospects by entering into coalition with certain other [presently larger] groups. Not, of course, that I'm suggesting anybody seriously high-up listened...]

The mood on the Convention-Room Floor seemed to absolutely lap this up. And I can well understand it. Many of these people, these loyal and tireless campaigners par excellence, have been going to these things for years. Some of them, apparently, have been following Winston round the place since long before there even WAS a New Zealand First. [I'm not kidding - part-way through his speech, Winston paused to acknowledge a couple who'd apparently been on one of his first selection panels in 1978]

So it's well appreciable that they'd today be relishing the thought of their electoral 'moment in the sun' - and the prospect of all of those other folk from all of those other parties who've spent a good portion of the last decade mocking and deriding New Zealand First ... well, the shoe'll certainly be on the other foot, won't it.

That last remark presumably also helps to explain the near frenzied consternation which presently seems to be emitting from the Greens this past month. Other than some of my more .. twisty conspiracy theories about the Green Party almost seeking to intentionally throw the 2017 Election so as to try and overtake Labour for 'lead left party' status in 2020, I don't think there's a better explanation to be easily had.

They're flailing around attempting to land rhetorical blows on New Zealand First in a manner that's rather questionable for their overall electoral prospects ... in part to attempt to assuage the opinions of a certain portion of their activist-base who evidently threatened to go limp ['going rogue' possibly being too strong of a word] if nothing was done, but also due to an increasing feeling of 'desperation' as to 'what to do about Winston' leading to political-rhetoric kitchen-sinkery as a cap-handed form of allegedly 'finesse' attack.

But what makes this interesting, however, is not the Green Party attempting a re-run of a previous tactic of theirs which has earlier backfired spectacularly [Rod Donald's campaign of comparing Winston to Hitler in 2004-2005 was one of the factors cited in locking the Greens out of Government following that Election] - but instead, the remarkable restraint which Winston showed today in *not* biting back.

I went in there fully prepared for a boisterous bevvy of bruising remarks about dope-smoking radicals engaged in sociological treason. Some of them even directed towards the Greens rather than a past life of yours truly.

Instead, what we got was measured criticism of the Greens in the same sentence as rarking up of Labour and National; and generalized castigations directed at nobody-in-particular-but-you-know about how 'the real racists' in New Zealand Politics were presumably those who'd allowed in upwards of seventy thousand people per year without first ensuring there was adequate provision of housing, schools, healthcare, infrastructure, and other elements of state spending for them once they got here.

It was, I have to say, a pretty decent subversion of multiple expectations; as well as interestingly harmonizing Winston with the rhetorical position of the Greens on the issue - namely, that 'scapegoating' migrants is the wrong end of the problem to be blaming when it's quite clearly a series of failures of political and economic management that have produced the deleterious circumstances we're presently experiencing in correlation with the immigration boom.

Now having said that - words are pretty, and guitar solos are amazing ... but what does it all mean?

There was a definite and pervasive 'mood for change' from many of the people I spoke to at Convention. A keen and keening awareness that the dominant politico-economic paradigm of New Zealand for some thirty three years now - and which has reached a recent apotheosis under National after several terms of moderation under Clark - just simply isn't working and ought be disposed of forthwith.

No seriously detailed plan was presented for how this might yet occur; and in the post-meeting discussion I had with a comrade, it was suggested that to actually attempt doing so would require several terms uninterrupted of New Zealand First dominated [or, indeed, exclusive] Government.

The issue, then, is obvious. For all of the strident talk from Party Grandees about how New Zealand First will be able to extract an incredibly high price from either National or Labour should we go into coalition with one of them ... I would find it frankly incredible if what Winston is proposing would be seriously deliverable in government with either. A coalition with National devoted to ending Neoliberalism would require the blue party to become so unrecognizable in comparison to its present (degenerated) state that it may as well become almost a new party. And whilst on paper the Labour Party is rather closer to this objective than the Nats, there are still somewhat strong reasons to outwardly suspect that this path, too, would lead to severely sub-optimal outcomes. One need look no further than the fiscal responsibility conditions which both Labour and the Greens signed up to as part of their Memorandum of Understanding to see that even the nominal 'lefty' option for Governing partners are pretty fundamentally wedded to the underlying strictures and politico-psychological terrain of neoliberalism.

Hence, presumably, the emphasis upon New Zealand First *being* the Government rather than merely supporting one through Confidence & Supply. That's fine. Although the odds of New Zealand First hitting perhaps twenty five percent in this Election - whilst not totally implausible [which shows just how askew from conventional expectations even a year ago we're at] - are still perhaps a bit of a long-shot.

Still, as the old saying goes - when shooting for the Moon, even if one misses, the arrow will still fall among the stars. [My inner cynic notes that, parabolistic trajectories being what they are, it's more often a case of 'what goes up, must come down' ... but I digress]

And so with that in mind, there remains a rather strong argument that a decently sized New Zealand First represents some 'electoral insurance' for the political situation post-2017.

This is because regardless of whether Labour-Greens-NZ First or NZ First-National eventuates, we wind up with a significant shift to the left from the Government we have in power presently.

Perhaps not the most convincing of arguments ... but then, nobody ever said that slightly remixed reissues of releases from 21 years ago were guaranteed to be hits.

[Author's note: For the last several years, my coverage of New Zealand First's annual Conventions for The Daily Blog has been done in something of a dual-hatted manner - in that I was both there for the full weekend as a Delegate, as well as in my journalistic capacity for TDB. Due to factors beyond my control, this year I only attended a small portion of Sunday's proceedings : and only with my "Journalistic' cap on. I mention this not in the hopes of suggesting a lessened bias on my part, but rather as an explanation for why my coverage of Convention is perhaps less fulsome than usual].

Monday, July 10, 2017

On Why The Greens REALLY Tore Into NZ First Over The Weekend

I've taken awhile off commenting on a .. certain area of New Zealand Politics for personal reasons; but looking at my newsfeed for the past 24 hours, it's pretty clear a number of things need to be said about the Green Party's recent comments on New Zealand First.

The first thing I'd like to acknowledge is that yup, some NZ First MPs and personnel have said some pretty stupid things in years past. I hardly need to re-run the particular incidences. No shortage of other people with particular agendas have already done so for me over the day.

But contrary to what some ultra-liberal folk would have you believe, it's possible to have a conversation around immigration policy which focuses on what's best for the country - whether environmentally or economically [and ideally both] - that *isn't* basically just a Trojan Horse covering for some sort of racist dog-whistle.

Personally, I think James Shaw did a pretty good job of that last year when he broached the subject of putting the Green Party's population policy [something that's been in their manifesto-equivalent now for more than a decade, I believe] into practice with regard to immigration. [this makes a certain amount of sense - as unless you go down the whole Chinese One Child Policy route, the only actual hands-on control a government can exercise over population increase is through migration rates. Although obviously changing cultural priorities around reproduction and altering availability of both contraception and abortion can also have an impact]

But evidently, a sufficient number of Green Party folk disagreed with that assessment to mandate a somewhat embarrassing climb-down on that issue earlier this month. Embarrassing, I suggest, because the implication we got from Shaw's repudiation statement was that basing policy on "data and numbers" rather than the optics of a situation was seen as being problematic - and if not actually racist itself, then at least pandering to same. It is arguably a worrying thing when "facts" wind up being deemed inconvenient and objectionable when it comes to policy-making.

As it happens, despite the much-vaunted walking-back of Shaw's previous policy-statements, as far as I can tell the Green Party's policy-document still makes reference to the exact same idea which some Greens activists [and others] decided had to be opposed at all costs. The only thing that appears to have changed is a removal of actual 'hard targets' from the policy in favour of a much more nebulous [the jargon would no doubt be 'values-based'] approach.

I would therefore surmise that if the Green Party have a problem with New Zealand First on immigration, then they are being somewhat disingenuous if they refer to it as being a policy-issue rather than a rhetoric issue.

And further, that if they are going to take serious issue with potential coalition partners on grounds of racist or otherwise problematic rhetoric, then they should probably also take a long hard look at their preferred partners the Labour Party.

After all, let us remember that when New Zealand First was pushing for a register of foreign property-ownership in order to truly assess just what was being bought up and by whom to determine the scale of our problem - the Labour Party were bandying about a list of "Chinese-sounding surnames" acquired through dubious means in pursuit of churlish headlines.

It might, I suppose, be argued that New Zealand First has a longer and more problematic history of objectionable communications in this area than does Labour. And there is perhaps a certain amount of truth in that. Not least because when we think of the words "Labour" and "Abhorrent Statement About Chinese Immigration", we are probably far more likely to recall that time Shane Jones decided to defend Bill Liu being granted citizenship against reams of official advice and strong concern from Interpol.

But to my mind, it is some of Turei's other remarks that are most instructive when it comes to addeucing what the Greens are attempting to do here.

For you see, upon closer inspection this whole thing is not actually about racist rhetoric on the campaign trail. Even though I have no doubt that many Greens folk feel legitimately dismayed about the thought of "enabling" Winston Peters in government because they think that's what they are thus implicitly supporting.

Rather, it is the Greens turning NZ First's standard election positioning strategy on NZ First. With instead of NZ First's customary signalling-lines about how the Greens or whomever are "dividing" New Zealand racially with extremist policies that can only be moderated or curtailed in a future government via a strong NZ First ... well, the Greens are saying the exact mirror-image of this. Namely, that New Zealand First are allegedly practising, in Turei's words "racist, divisive politics", thus requiring New Zealanders to "strengthen [The Greens'] arm in the next government so they don't have that type of influence".

Like I said: the exact mirror-image of what Winston customarily says about them. With additional points for Turei's subsequent line about "moderating [NZ First's] worst excesses" if compelled into a governing arrangement with NZ First - as this is literally what NZ First supporters say when speaking in putative favour of a National-NZ First coalition. [I once referred to this as "buying yourself some electoral insurance"]

Will this work out successfully for them? I don't think it especially likely. Anyone who was going to be (positively) motivated by such rhetoric is probably already voting for the Greens [or alternatively, has a radically different set of personal priorities, and is doing something weird like voting for ACT because they somehow think the destructive hand of the untrammelled market isn't racially discriminatory or something].

And for the many, MANY hundreds of thousands of voters who actually rate immigration as an important issue, well they're hardly likely to feel inspired to support the Greens as a result of this, now, are they.

Indeed, one prospective consequence is the exact opposite of what was hoped for by the Greens - New Zealand First picking up additional votes [and therefore a greater chance of being the dominant influence in a post-2017 Government].

Another rather more certain outcome, sadly, will be the National Party continuing to look strong, stable and 'safe' in comparison to the prospective nont-National-led three-way Government.

Not least because it's rather plainly apparent to anybody who can count that the only way Labour and the Greens make it over the magic 61 seat threshold is with New Zealand First's rather considerable help.

Perhaps, then, the Green Party have made a rational calculation about a Labour/Greens/NZF Government after the Election being rather unlikely [for whatever reason - there are several important prospective causations for why this might eventuate] and are instead attempting to play 'the long game' by continuing to build their own support [at the expense of several other parties] in order to have a stronger voice in some as-yet unconceived future Government in 2020, 2023 etc.

In any case - social media bubbles are not terribly reflective of the actual mood out there in the Electorate, but the strong majority of people who actually bother/care about such things as election-year political party spats do not necessarily appear to be on-side with the Greens about this one.

It will be interesting to see what effect this might have in the medium-long term.

Although I am taking some solace from the pointed refusal by either The Greens or New Zealand First to rule out working with the other party in Government after this year's General Election.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Are Todd Barclay And National High-Ups Guilty Of Witness Tampering?

There's an old saying in politics - "It's not the crime that gets you, it's the coverup".

Any number of previous, well-trammelled scandals and imbroglios serve to prove this fundamental truth - with American political happenings such as Watergate and the Lewinski Affair probably being some of the best-known examples.

For various reasons, it's been a maxim often less applied here in New Zealand. There's just something about living in a small, insular 'everybody-knows-everybody' kinda place that makes attempts at pulling off a genuine "cover-up" something of a fool's errand.

Todd Barclay, apparently, is that fool.

Now, there are no doubt any mileage of column-inches about to be penned on the sorry saga by which a young lad managed to throw away a potentially life-long political career handed to him on a platter; but for my money [and it is taxpayer money we're talking about, after all] no explanation better encapsulates what's gone on than that ancient Greek maxim: "Those whom the Gods would destroy ... they first make arrogant".

For it is arrogance in the extreme which appears to have characterized Barclay's conduct right the way through what's gone on. Starting with getting off-side with long-serving electorate office staff over his boyish refusal to turn up for community engagements in his constituency. And continuing apace with his overt antagonism of at least one of these staffers to the point that an employment grievance wound up being filed, and compensation - justly - argued for.

Perhaps it is the brashness of young men [something I'm occasionally somewhat acquainted with]; and certainly, it is not at all out of keeping with the default de-rigeur characterization of the National Party that their incipient scion would have such a low opinion of the rights and protections accorded to the ordinary Kiwi worker [or, for that matter, those whom they are paid princely to represent].

But whilst the stereotypical National voter might not care too much about the well-treatment of employees [and, going off National's previous legislative record in this area, are pretty A-OK with the Government casually listening in on your private conversations] ... if there's one thing they DO care about, it's the outright waste and mis-expenditure of taxpayer money. [At least in concept - once again, National's actual record in this area has many, many millions mis-allocated to things like flag referendums, and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment building redesigns etc.]

And while other commentators are right now asking whether it's an appropriate use of taxpayer coin to provide 'hush-money' to somebody who could potentially embarrass the Government ... I've got a rather different question.

Namely, whether Todd Barclay and co. have actually broken the law with the way they've attempted to keep the woman at the center of this all - one Glenys Dickson - from co-operating with the Police investigation into what's gone on.

So let's recap.

Section 216B of the Crimes Act makes it an offence [albeit a rather mild one, punishable by 'only' up to two years' imprisonment] to illicitly record the private communications of others. Unless, of course, you're Tim Groser having our intelligence services bug rivals for a plum job - in which case, it's absolutely fine, apparently. Gosh, no wonder Barclay thought he was in the right - he was simply aping the example of those further up the National Party greasy-pole than he is. [At the very least, you'd think the Nats would be better acquainted with the ambit of this legislation given its previous use by the Prime Minister of the day to tarr morally blameless cameraman Bradely Ambrose as part o the 'Teapot Tapes' scandal]

It is [rather strongly] alleged that the offence made out in s216B is exactly what Barclay did, using a listening device to record and potentially have a transcript made of Dickson's communications in some sort of bizarre bid to get a 'one-up' of sorts upon her in a brewing employment dispute.

Barclay has always denied that he did this (or at least, that he did so intentionally), and despite assuring his voters that he'd co-operate to the fullest extent with the police investigation into the 'alleged' bugging, he proceeded to dodge and frustrate police inquiries into the matter at every turn.

The ten-month police investigation into the alleged bugging was eventually brought to a fruitless close due to "insufficient evidence"; although it occurs that it is perhaps rather curious that no search-warrant was ever served on Barclay's place of residence [despite a previous Police interest in doing same] to recover the recording device and/or transcripts which would have proven the offence [or, to be fair, to have made out its actus reus element at the very least - errant legal expert Andrew Geddis has suggested that a lack of intent would vitiate the notion of a crime having been committed, even if Barclay later chose to keep the recordings].

All things considered, a sad end to what should have been a proud statement that here in New Zealand, even Government MPs are not above the law [albeit a conclusion one wonders whether the Police might be revisiting, in light of the evident surfeit of people all throughout the upper echelons of the National Party not only of the opinion that a recording WAS made, but apparently acquainted in detail with some of the contents thereof].

But the potential illegalities did not end there; and in light of this week's revelations about what's gone on, I would go so far as to suggest that it's only now that things have gotten 'really interesting'.

Everybody's focused thus far on the aforementioned section 216B of our Crimes Act.

But in fact, there is another - far older - segment of our criminal code that may be more directly relevant to what's gone on here.

In specia, section 117 - "Corrupting Juries And Witnesses" [and, for that matter, perhaps also its immediately above neighbour, s116 - "Conspiring To Defeat Justice"].

Walk with me, if you will, through s117.

Subsection (a) sets out that a person who "dissuades or attempts to dissuade a person, by threats, bribes, or other corrupt means, from giving evidence in any cause or matter (whether civil or criminal[)]" commits an offence punishable by up to seven years imprisonment. Subsection (e) furthers the ambit of this section by adding that a person who "willfully attempts in any other way to obstruct, prevent, pervert, or defeat the course of justice in New Zealand" is also guilty of the same offence.

Clear so far? Good.

Now take a look at a few of the quotes that have come out from the key National players in this scandal:

Bill English's statement that a "larger than normal settlement [...] part-paid from the Prime Minister's budget in order to avoid potential legal action" takes on a bit of a different light, now, doesn't it.

More to the point, presuming for the moment that the statement Dickson has given to Police about her interactions with various high-up National functionaries is accurate [and I see no reason, at this point to doubt it], what are we to make of her being told that going all the way to Court would make things "difficult" for her and her family? Or, for that matter, the very pointed emphasis that she'd be singlehandedly responsible for "[taking] down the National Party" if she persisted with her police complaint.

Do these incidences appear to look rather like the elements of the offence of witness-tampering as made out in s117 of the Crimes Act? Why, I think they do. At least enough to mount a serious and vigorous prosecution - even if the result is ultimately in the negative.

We have a prima-facie situation of the current Prime Minister stating that a cash payment was considered [which meets the definition of a 'bribe' as set out in the s99 Interpretation of the Crimes Act for 'Crimes Affecting The Administration Of Laws And Justice'] necessary to prevent "legal action" in this matter. Regardless of whether the legal proceedings in question are civil or criminal in nature, the charge laid out in s117 can still apply.

Further, the comments from the as-yet unnamed National Party high-up about how taking Barclay to Court would make things "difficult" for Dickson's family - whilst perhaps presentable as being the mere facts and reality of undergoing legislative proceedings in a high-profile case - certainly appears to have been presented to Dickson with the overt overtones of a "threat". And the attempt to exert 'moral pressure' of a sort upon Dickson to not besmirch the name of the National Party and its ability to pass legislation, is arguably yet another example [if we presume that 'threat' means "if you do X, then Y undesirable consequence for you not directly connected to X will happen"], particularly in light of the implicit statement that Dickson would become something of a pariah in National Party circles [which evidently include quite some of her close associates among them] for being a whistle-blower. At the very least, it would be enough for an exploratory probe under the earlier s116, concerning potential Conspiracy To Defeat The Course Of Justice.

Now will anything come of any of the above? I'm not sure. Certainly, in an ordinary and transparent political-legal system, there would be pretty reasonable grounds to get very, very annoyed indeed if none of this were looked into further by the proper authorities. Particularly in light of the already somewhat curious decision of the Police to drop the Barclay case despite very strong [albeit arguably circumstantial] evidence in their possession that an offence against s216b concerning the illicit recording HAD been committed.

Having said all that, I must concede a possibility that there is yet more material yet to come out which casts the whole thing in a different light. But with what we know so far it is difficult in the extreme to avoid the severe impression of egregious impropriety with what's gone on.

Perhaps my next 'big question' should be why Barclay wasn't de-selected as the local National candidate many, many moons ago. Particularly as a successful conviction for any of the above [even, according to my reading of the law, the relatively more mild s216B recording device charge] would result in the responsible parties - if MPs - being booted out of Parliament with great haste under s55(d) of the Electoral Act.

In order to attempt to 'cauterize' the bleeding - and prevent even 'higher-profile' scalps from finding themselves mounted on some errant litigant's wall - I would fully expect Barclay to be "gone by lunchtime" [in the words of a previous somewhat scandal-mired National Party Leader]. Whether that's enough to prevent a full-scale probe into who's said what to whom is another matter. If National moves to block a proper Inquiry into how much and what sort of involvement senior figures including other MPs had in these events, then it certainly gives the compelling impression that they've something to hide.

In any case, looking at all of this it's pretty hard to feel confident that a party which runs itself in such an avowedly circus-like manner could possibly be fit to govern the rest of the nation.

"The Fish", as they also say in politics, "rots from the head" on down.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Point To Consider On s59 'Anti-Smacking' Debate

There's a point to be made on this whole 'Anti-Smacking'/s59 debate which New Zealand First has brought back to the limelight, that I don't think I've seen anyone else making.

The reason why it's passed 'below the radar' thus far [with the sole exception of an article penned by a certain errant renegade penman a few months back], is because it's actually a 'liberal' argument which just so happens to bolster a 'conservative' position. Therefore, neither 'side' have really sought to draw upon it.

And it's this: At the moment, the way s59 works is that what constitutes 'reasonable force' under subsection (1) of the law is subjective - and the decision on whether a parent gets prosecuted is pretty much entirely a matter for the discretion of Police [see subsection (4)]. Now, on the face of it, this might appear eminently reasonable. There are perhaps legitimate quibbles to be had with Police operational guidelines determining what's a crime rather than the black-letter law of Parliament - but that is another issue.

As it stands, there's another area of law wherein Police have an incredibly broad power of discretion about whether or not to prosecute somebody - and that's low-level cannabis possession. You might be forgiven for thinking, given my previous background, that this is something I'd be massively in favour of. And to a certain extent, I guess I am. It's in everybody's interests for folk who might happen to be snapped with a tinny or a fifty to not be clogging up our nation's court system after all. But a look at the actual statistics resulting from this low-key 'discretionary-de-facto-decriminalization' approach is illuminating; in that it adduces quite the disparity along racial lines in who gets let off with a pre-charge warning or other lack of serious legal consequence, versus who finds themselves in first The Cells, and then The Dock. Unfortunately, the New Zealand Police have not exactly been forthcoming in response to my own previous attempts to get data off them about how various cannabis offenders may or may not wind up with different outcomes on the basis of their socio-economic background, and other such factors. So it's difficult to truly substantiate how much of a wider problem this might be. Although we already know that it's not just cannabis-law enforcement where Maori often wind up having a rather different experience of the criminal justice system than other New Zealanders; with even the New Zealand Police themselves admitting they're often subject to "unconscious bias" when it comes to Maori. With that in mind, when it comes to the sorts of situations s59 was designed to cover, even a moment's cynical consideration serves to suggest that an articulate upper-class chap in a suit standing at the door of a flash home in a well-heeled suburb is probably going to have a better chance of convincing a policeman who turns up at his door that nothing's amiss, as compared to an ordinary working-class man living through no fault of his own in a glorified garage Out West. My point, then, is that there are very real reasons to be concerned about any law whose application hinges almost entirely upon the discretion of an individual person - and their own best judgement as to what words like "reasonable force" mean. Particularly given that the historic way we test these sorts of things is to err on the side of caution, bring somebody before a judge and jury, and ask the latter to decide on which side of the legal 'grey area' an alleged offender's conduct falls [c.f cases of force used in 'self defence']. And that's presumably the 'chilling effect' which NZ First MP Tracey Martin was talking about in her televised discussion [I hesitate to call it a 'debate'] with former Greens MP Sue Bradford on Q&A on Sunday. The concern some parents have that they'll somehow fall afoul of an overzealous policeman whilst doing something that's theoretically still allowed by law, and find themselves put to all the time, expense, and potential public-shaming of having to defend themselves against a perhaps unnecessary prosecution. It's perhaps easy to write that scenario as fear-mongering on the part of New Zealand First; but the legal analysis provided by flashy law-firm Chen-Palmer on whether parents were being criminalized for utilizing relatively light force for the purposes of correction ... does appear to suggest that some are. Although despite this, I am not entirely sure that I would call New Zealand First entirely vindicated over this issue. Tracey's comments on Q&A appear to suggest that NZ First wishes for greater clarity in the law, whilst still legally prohibiting parents from engaging in the sort of brutal conduct with horse-whips and the like which lead to the law's enactment in the first place. That's fair enough, and I would even go so far as to suggest it's difficult to argue against [unless you want smacking legally prohibited entirely - which is definitely NOT what the s59 bill was sold to us as doing]. But in that case, it would surely make greater sense for New Zealand First to put forward our own amendment bill to deliver this greater clarity - rather than potentially adding to the murkiness by calling for a Referendum which might result in the extant s59's repeal with no clear view as yet as to what may replace it. Either way, it seems curious to me in the extreme that the 'side' of politics which is usually so ardently suspicious [whether rightly or otherwise] of policemen and laws which can be 'flexibly applied' on the basis of race or class ... are instead pretty emphatically adamant that the law we've got is problem-free. Are they right to be enthusiastic about what we have at the moment? Depends what you prioritize. Certainly, the argument has been made from a number of quarters that child-abuse rates in New Zealand remain endemic regardless of s59's passage. [something which I personally view as being fairly directly tied with the ongoing deterioration of economic outcomes for many thousands of New Zealanders thanks to three decades of worsening Neoliberal misrule] Ordinarily, this is where I'd make my level-best attempt at penning a strong conclusion. But with the very real possibility that New Zealand First's increased salience on the political landscape this year will make for an actual re-referendum on the subject ... it's fair to say that any 'conclusion' reached on this issue is very much a tenuous one.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Only Thing "Rancid" About Butter Chicken Comment Is Shane Jones

There are a few things to be said in response to Shane Jones' recent declaration that New Zealand's immigration policy is as "rancid" as "butter chicken".

The first of these, is that this is rather rich criticism coming from Mr Jones. The last time he was in Parliament, he was part of a party that presided over immigration levels so high they've only recently been eclipsed by National.

More to the point, many of the issues with the dodgy provision of education to international students are not new. They've been known about for much of the last two decades; with the previous large-scale flare-up in this area coming from the language-school sector in 2003 - when Labour was entering into its second term in government (and, as it happens, equidistant between that Government's partnering of Trade New Zealand and Education New Zealand in 2000 -  and the Government's decision to start actively subsidizing the overseas promotion of 'export education' here in New Zealand in 2006). Did Jones raise any "culinary criticisms" back then?

Worse, when Jones talks of "rancid" circumstances in the Immigration portfolio, we can only presume that he is speaking from hard-won experience. As the Minister in charge of this area, he went against official advice to pressure for New Zealand citizenship to be granted to international criminal and money-launderer Bill Liu (who just so happened to be a personal friend of Jones). No comments about "as corrupt as chow-mein" then, I take it?

The plain fact of the matter is that Jones' Parliamentary career to date has been characterized by a series of actions at complete odds with the image he will no doubt shortly be seeking to project. Instead of criticizing a government's record on immigration - whether 'export-education' driven or otherwise - he was an active proponent and participant in some of the worst excesses of same.

I can only presume that Jones' sudden complete volte-face has something to do with his impending personal ambitions.

Finally, what really left a bad taste in my mouth was Jones' both scurrilous and utterly spurious full-frontal assault upon the taste and texture of butter chicken. As any who know me can well attest, I am quite fond of North Indian cuisine [butter chicken, contrary to popular speculation, apparently having been developed and popularized by a Hindu refugee who wound up having to flee what would become Pakistan during the dark days of Partition]; and whilst the humble butter chicken is far from my favourite preparation, a word does definitely need to be spoken in its defence.

There is nothing "rancid" about butter chicken. And it is truly tasteless to attempt to demarcate an ethnic group (as Jones has clearly attempted to do, given the attention upon the Indian component of New Zealand's 'export education market of late) via recourse to blithely insulting one of the more commonly consumed elements of their habitually associated cuisine. I wouldn't dream, for instance, of attempting to denigrate Jones in terms usually reserved for bad seafood. Although it does occur that the reasoning behind Biblical prohibitions upon eating same [well, Jones' preferred lobsters and molluscs anyway] had much to do with the fact that many of these creatures were the carrion of the sea, or whose filter-feeding lead to the direct coming into contact with of potentially hazardous waste.

Now I am not, strictly speaking, endeavouring to suggest that the risks of taking one such as Jones into one's own body-politik are akin to that of eating uncooked shellfish.

But it does occur that in politics - as with bad kai moana - that Jones is hardly likely to taste any better upon the second time around, coming up.