Monday, September 29, 2014

W(h)ither Labour (!/?)

There's an old saying that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.

Not so in the Labour Party, wherein soul-crushing defeat on a scale unseen since 1925 definitely has many fathers (and more than a few mothers and eager midwives) ... but for the most part, the serious questions of blame and paternity have only really focused on the role of one man - the Leader.

Post-election, the mainstream media narrative appears to have been all about Cunliffe (and occasionally a prospective replacement in the form of Robertson, once the flights of fancy about a Jacinda Ardern-led Labour proved lacking in any substance not being over-indulged in by the commentariat) - either not-so-subtly pointing out that some New Zealanders (a demographic customarily referred to as the "Press Gallery") have taken an instant disliking to the man ... or basically casting his main rival as a slightly-grown-up student politician.

Personally, I do believe that Cunliffe contributed to Labour's rather lackluster result - and in any number of ways. A complete demolition and take-down of the man called Silent T's role in this election campaign is well beyond the scope of this piece (and would take the focus somewhere not especially useful anyway) ... but part of me really, really hopes that Labour will finally, here in 2014, learn the obvious lesson it should have picked up in 2011 and all the way from 2011-2014:

Labour *can't* (yet) compete with National when it comes to presidential-style politics, and may arguably be better served through adopting a variation on Bill Rowling's old slogan of "Man for Man the Strongest Team" in concert with a healthy dosage of "let's at least *try* and make our headline policy agenda broadly palatable to the working and middle classes our votes majorly come from". Mostly the second bit.

Because seriously. When I think of Labour's policy priorities this last campaign, three things stand out to me: "Raise the retirement age to 67; Get into Surplus just a year later than the Nats; and tax the middle class's retirement savings with a CGT".

So let's run through that again ... Raise the retirement age - for workers. Tax the middle class on their retirement savings. Announce you're not going to deliver on your promise of free doctor's visits for over-65s ... because you really, really want to match the neoliberal National party's quixotic pursuit of surplus at all costs only a year later.

Read those headline policies back to me and then TELL ME that Labour lost the election because it was "too left" and needs to tack right. Go on. Do it with a straight face.

I know exactly how annoying it is when people and commentators from outside of one's party roll up with a newspaper and pretend to have become overnight experts in your party's affairs, development and history; so I'm not going to try and sketch out a detailed alternative policy manifest, campaign platform or Parliamentary List. Besides, if Labour wants a good example of a solidly left-wing economic policy-set that's demonstrably popular with the electorate ... they need look no further than New Zealand First's. As has been pointed out by any number of commentators, we're the only left-wing party to increase its representation in Parliament this term.

But what I will suggest is that in the minds of far too many in the electorate, the commentariat, and even by the sounds of it some within the party itself ... Labour has become subconsciously associated with a deep sense of malaise - indeed, unelectability.

Way back in April 2012, David Cunliffe electrified both Labour's support-base and a small segment of politically interested Kiwis by maintaining that "When the right-wing party says that it’s going to cut your leg off, voters want the left-wing party to say that it’s not going to cut your leg off. Voters don’t want to be told that the left-wing party is also going to cut your leg off, but cut it off a bit lower down and give you some anesthetic."

Obviously, he's completely and utterly correct about this; so it's just baffling and mystifying why the Labour campaign he presided over here in 2014 - with its strong emphasis on trying to match the Nats as hard-hearted surplus-producing, middle-class-CGT-taxing retirement-age-raising neoliberally "responsible" fiscal managers - was EXACTLY THAT.

You can see further evidence of this in Cunliffe's various vague and vainglorious attempts to blow-by-blow match New Zealand First. We announced an intent to provide 3 free doctor's visits for Gold Card holders a year. Cunliffe came out and said Labour would do free doctor's visits for over-65s all up. I cheered! They'd taken our commitment and ramped it up to eleven! Awesome!

Then Labour suggested that they had to axe that policy due to changed numbers in the pre-election economic forecast prepared by National, if they wanted to be able to deliver surplus on schedule.

So because it had hemmed itself in thanks to a virtually inexplicable commitment to try and match National as "competent" neoliberal economic managers able to deliver a surplus, Labour found itself demonstrating to voters that it prioritized trying to beat National at its own (fairly irrelevant) surplus game over the health and wellbeing of our senior citizens.

It then added insult to injury by subsequently attempting to meet New Zealand First's #Renationalization and #Kiwifund bottom lines ... through establishing a sovereign wealth fund that would seek to restore Kiwi state ownership of assets at a rate of a hundred million dollars a year. Considering there's several billion dollars of assets flicked by this National government, we might be here awhile; even leaving aside questions of whether free doctor's visits for senior citizens are a better use of public money than attempting to deliver a surplus and reprioritizing a few hundred million to play Coalition Footsie with New Zealand First.

All of this means that I was enormously surprised by Grant Robertson's claim on Monday that he would have been able to lead Labour to victory where Cunliffe couldn't.

I mean, what does this claim rest on? The idea that Robertson wouldn't have stuffed up a Leader's Debate question about the application of Labour's Capital Gains Tax?

Yeah, see if you answered that question with anything other than "wouldn't Robertson have done better as Labour leader by taking David Lange's advice and axing the CGT proposal in the first place...?" then you're fundamentally misunderstanding the problem.

There are a really, really, really long list of things unpopular, broken, or festering about the Labour Party here in 2014 - and I don't just mean some of their MPs.

This idea that you can just suddenly change what's sitting up the top of the pyramid and then expect all the great stone blocks beneath the capstone to Rubik's Cube around until they're in some sort of electable fronting is simplistic, reductionist, and also dangerously flat-out wrong. It leads to a lazy sort of thinking that basically suggests if you make one symbolic change ... then the entire substance of the rest of the edifice will follow.

If Labour wants a serious show at leading the left-wing and anti-neoliberal parties to coalition victory in 2014 - hell, if Labour wants to have even a shred of moral or economic legitimacy as it claims to "lead" the Opposition this term - then they are going to have to take one helluva long, hard look at who they actually are and what they actually stand for. Parading round in the colour red and referring to yourself as a "worker's movement" (I'm *assuming* that's what the word "Labour" in Labour is there for?) is no salve for having a finance spokesperson that apparently believes electricity generation assets don't have to be run in the New Zealand national interest (let alone state owned) or that "competitive markets don't need regulation". With quotes like that flying around, it's pretty clear that Labour lacks a genuine anti-Neoliberal vision for the future of this country; and even while I applaud and recognize Labour every time they go in to bat for workers' tea-breaks, or raising the minimum wage, or New Zealand First's awesome Reserve Bank Amendment Bill ...  I really have to ask if quibbling around the edges of National's economic model is *really* the best we can hope for from what nominally claims to be our leading Opposition party.

Sadly, I think it very well might be; and am citing my own fundamental pessimism about Labour's ability to galvanize itself (hell, even conceptualize itself) as a visionary anti-neoliberal party as justification for why New Zealand First and The Greens ought to take the leadership of both the Opposition and any putative future government. We certainly seem to do a better job on both policy and motivating voters to turn out on election day to support our causes. (although, to be fair, given the Greens have dropped a seat, it's really more a case of The Greens being *less worse* than Labour at getting their supporters turned out)

New Zealand deserves, wants and needs a government that will do more than just blow on the thermonuclear servo-station pie that is neoliberalism. Indeed New Zealand requires, fiends and /craves/ a fundamentally better class of policy and/or pie.

Like many readers of this blog, I know a small number of good, committed and principled people within Labour. I wish them every success in their quest to both grow and take back their pie.

But having seen what they've managed to deliver with their previous two attempts ... you'll understand why I think it's high time that NZF and the Greens take over the catering duties.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Themes of the Campaign

There's one area of a political campaign that just about everyone, at some point, falls afoul of. The campaign song. I'm not sure quite why it is, but it seems to be almost impossible for political parties to come up with a musical oeuvre that's simultaneously accessible to a broad swathe of the population, resonates with key demographics, embodies the narrative themes of your campaign, AND won't create some sort of bizarre blowback later.

I was therefore pretty surprised when National went with what was pretty clearly a slightly orchestrally elevator music version of Eminem's "Lose Yourself". It was broadly accessible (just about everyone's heard it in the decade or so since 8Mile came out); it resonated with key demographics (youth; the sort of upper-middle-class person who thinks Eminem is "edgy"); embodied the narrative theme of National's campaign (tough times, but a way forward out of them thanks to a visionary genius) ... and then it created some sort of bizarre blowback.

See, when viewing the Opening Night broadcasts, I thought that this election could be summed up as Eminem vs Coldplay (as Labour's ad featured a similarly elevator music'd Viva La Vida ... which quite possibly makes elevator music squared); although when researching this piece, it turned out that National vs Coldplay has, in fact, happened before... (they've also previously been sued by Warner Brothers, in 1984, for using the theme to Chariots of Fire.)

I'm not quite sure why there's such a pattern of right-wing parties using music they're not entitled to and which contains polemical points they don't understand; but it's not like National's the only offender.

Previous examples of this include the Republican Party borrowing the Foo Fighters' "Times Like These" to herald George W Bush, then doing the same thing four years later with "My Hero" for John McCain; although for the truly absolutely bizarre, look no further than the elected quasi-fascists of the British National Party using The Manic Street Preachers' If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next.

Yes, that's right, an actual quasi-fascist party used a song written in tribute to the International Brigades which fought in the Spanish Civil War ... and EVEN INCLUDES THE LITERAL LINE "So if I can shoot rabbits/ then I can shoot fascists!" ... as their electoral anthem. Really, really logical there, people.

But let's take a step back for a moment and consider the associations and themes of the song National's actually chosen to herald the #BrighterFuture this time around. What's Lose Yourself really about? (Apart from Mum's Spaghetti)

From where I'm sitting, the entire ethos and vibe of both the song, and the accompanying movie/vehicle it's drawn from is about a man and his community that's suffering from some considerable economic marginalization. That's why he's living in a "mobile home". That's why he "can't get by with my 9 to 5 [to] provide the right type of life for my family / Coz man these food stamps don't buy diapers" ... seriously, let's just pause for a minute and consider the fact that National's official campaign theme contains lines about how state welfare/assistance recipients can't access items they need because we refuse to trust them with money - food stamps not buying diapers is eerily similar to WINZ deciding tampons were a "luxury item" that couldn't be bought with a food grant... and then we wind up with "and these times are so hard - and its' getting even harder".

Now just remind yourself, for a moment, which political party it is which has taken the song about the man struggling to be able to provide for his child because wages aren't enough to sustain a family, and state assistance has been pared back too much to help him. For some strange reason, it's the party that *opposes* a Living Wage and which has done more than any government since Ruthanasia to slash state assistance to beneficiaries. And then, to add insult to injury, the ads featuring Lose Yourself in the background have a team of rowers - a sport more usually associated with Cambridge and Oxford or our best boys' schools down the Maadi Cup, rather than "Struggle Street" (or, if you prefer, McGehan Close)

Mad, yet?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

They're tryna build a prison system - for you and me to live in

Well, at least we now know how National intends to deliver that extra hundred and fifty thousand jobs they've promised us. Although on sixty cents an hour, it's not *quite* the reasonable pay packet - or, hell, living wage that National never seems to promise to match.

Yes, that's right - National is intent on bringing back the work-house; with proposals announced this week for all of New Zealand's prisons (assumedly including the privately owned ones) to be turned into "working prisons".

Now for some stupid reason, the Green Party decided the best way to front-foot this issue was to announce "support in principle" for working prisons, provided the slave-labour wage rates prisoners will earning don't have a negative impact on private sector workers more generally.

I usually expect more from the Greens in terms of their being the sensible, sane arm of our nation's politics ... so I was inordinately surprised that Clendon's reported list of objections to the policy didn't include some of the following:

New Zealand is unlucky enough to have a prison system already part-privatized. A nuclear weapons (and other awesome, humanitarian things) company called SERCO owns and operates facilities like Mt Eden. If you do a *teensy* bit of googling about this company and its record, then you're left with the distinct impression it's a bit of a dodgy operator.

Matters only get *worse* when you start to look at how they do prisoner labour over in the United States (which, let's not forget, has a bit of a history with involuntary servitude that runs right back through Confederate cotton-fields and Framers' plantations and on into indentured white labourers being shipped over en-masse in the 1600s).

Check how Alternet puts it: "Rarely can you find workers so pliable, easy to control, stripped of political rights, and subject to martial discipline at the first sign of recalcitrance -- unless, that is, you traveled back to the nineteenth century when convict labor was commonplace nationwide

Starting to see why private prison operators are licking their lips in anticipation about being gifted their own cut-rate slave-labour workforces?

It gets worse.

Privatized prisons are most profitable when they're at as close to maximum capacity as they can be. This way the prison operator is taking the most possible money from the state and taxpayer (variable revenue) to cover both the costs per prisoner (variable costs) and the fixed costs associated with running the prison. There's therefore straight from the get-go a perverse incentive for prison operators
to frustrate attempts at parole, rehabilitation, or anything else which dents their prison population, and the concordant profitability of said operation. Ways in which this may manifest run all the way from the culture perpetuated by prison staff within the institution itself on up to lobbying the government for more punitive and incarceration-oriented sentencing legislation.

You know, like the Three Strikes You're Out (And Some Prison Operator's Latest "Investment") law which we got thanks to ACT last time around.

Turning our prisons - and particularly those which are already privatized - into workhouses (particularly when some prisoners *already* have the ability to work, and especially as part of rehabilitation efforts) just adds yet another layer of perverse disincentive for the state - or the private operators it's kicking for touch by handing responsibility on to - to actually do something about our spiraling prison population.

All National has in fact done by announcing its intent bring us "working prisons" ... is they've managed to evolve SERCO's view of its charges from "thing that gets put in hole for a few months or years and passively generates us a return" to "thing we can drag out of the hole and extract an actively generated return through mandatory labour".

So to sum up:

Privatized prisons are prisons run at a profit. Activities which generate profit are the ones which private sector operators will engage in more of. Holding as many prisoners as possible generates as much profit as possible. Making all those prisoners work for slave-wages while you pocket the revenues both from keeping them AND what they produce ... is even MORE profitable.

Letting those prisoners out on parole, or otherwise facing a declining prisoner population is *not* profitable. In fact, it actively hurts profit margins. A humane and successful rehabilitation program, therefore, would be /incredibly/ bad for business, as it would hugely reduce the recidivist inmate-pool whom SERCO's New Zealand arm is directly building its fortunes upon.

This is why I don't trust any but the state - and even then, not them all that much - with the ability to incarcerate and take away the rights of its citizenry. Because at least the state doesn't have profit margins (although it can be argued that the vote-seeking proclivities of politicans can, if anything, be worse).

The trouble is, even when you divorce the apparatii designed for arbitrating criminal cases and allocating custodial sentences from the organ charged with meting out them custodial sentences ... while on paper this makes it somewhat more difficult for private operators to demand "profitability-at-sentencing", you still wind up the people who have actual authority over prisoners day-to-day - and who can therefore make the greatest possible contribution or otherwise to prisoner rehabilitation (or, if they prefer, dehumanization) - drawing a profit from their ongoing incarceration.

And then we make it even MORE profitable to own and run a prison by letting the custodians extract productive labour out of said prisoners.

Leaving aside for a moment the /certainty/ that this WILL affect the Kiwi labour market ... I cannot wait for somebody attempting to take on a Judge who's got shares in SERCO for presumptive bias in sentencing :P 

Friday, September 5, 2014

We're on the Greenest Greens: Call us Vegetarian

Yesterday, The Internet Party and MANA issued a joint press statement setting out their respective stances on cannabis.

Despite Hone Harawira's previous and well-known opposition to law reform in this area, alteration of policy in this area was always a pretty predictable move from InternetMANA. It's a natural fit with their target demographic, a cause celebre for protest voters and many within the electorate, and perhaps most importantly, a chance for InternetMANA to once again stake out slightly more radical ground on policy than some of their chief rivals - the Green Party.

Yet it's important to look at what's actually been said by each of the respective parties when it comes to cannabis law reform. It's all too easy to wind up caught up in the smoke and mirrors (ha ...although the mirrors get used for something else) and subject to the misrepresentational vagaries of the media's interpretation and spin of parties' stances otherwise.

This appears to already be the case for InternetMANA, wherein the actual press release issued by Harawira & Harre quite clearly sets out that the Internet Party is in favour of "immediate decriminalization" and moves toward "legalization and proper regulation"; while MANA is not yet in favour of decriminalization (Harawira states this is "still being worked through" by members) and instead quite sensibly places its own stronger emphasis on "support and treatment".

Naturally, one half of InternetMANA stating it believes in decriminalization, while the other half doesn't (yet) has been read by some commentators as full support for full decriminalization and eventual regulation plus market by both parties and thus the whole alliance, as you can see here.

I don't doubt that that's where many if not most MANA supporters' hearts eventually lie; but I'm not entirely sure if it's a service to InternetMANA to remove the nuances from their position and try and make out that they're officially balls-out (buddying up?) for decriminalization. One of the strengths of the IMP alliance is its ability, in a federalized manner, to advocate policy positions that appeal simultaneously to different parts of the electorate, and while Harawira's emphasis upon the continued illegality of cannabis creating an impediment toward dependents seeking assistance and treatment with their health issue is obviously intended to be read in a complimentary way with Harre's statement about the desirability of decriminalization and eventual legalization and regulation ... I also feel that there is a market on the left for Harawira's own personal distaste for cannabis legalization - and that this aids rather than impinges upon InternetMANA's credibility with mainstream New Zealanders.

So here's a brief review of what the various parties think about cannabis:

National, predictably, remains trenchantly opposed to legalization or decriminalization. According to them, they can't see any benefits which outweigh the harms in law reform. I'm sure the presence of a number of former tobacco industry lobbyists on its List and in its post-2014 Caucus had no influence whatsoever on this. File this under "we believe the law is working, and won't be changing it any time soon".

Labour, as a fellow Big Two party and thus consequent slave to the passions of the mythical "center voter", is also cagey. I have had quite some respect for Iain Lees-Galloway on this issue, however, as he's managed to stake out a measured personal position that appears to have slowly encouraged the beginning of the reform of Labour's policy all up. At present, they're not keen on legalization, but are open to a "conversation" in this area. I doubt they'll go much further than this for some years yet, but at least they're not completely ruling out reform out of hand.

The Green Party, meanwhile, puts out some seriously confusing messages about cannabis reform. We all know that many of its members and MPs are strongly supportive of rational and pragmatic drug policy. We also all know that it's a bit of an electoral impediment to have the slightly more well-healed middle-class voters the Greens are now chasing thinking you're all a bunch of dreadlock'd, dope-smoking radicals too stoned to even contemplate an armed uprising to seize the means of production.

So the Greens attempt to strike a middle course of being somewhat all things to all people on this issue. Their official policy, as available on their website (in either summary or full-length), doesn't make mention of the words "decriminalization" or "legalization" once. Instead, they've gone for the subtle approach of signalling their intent for a "review" of laws in order to produce a "rational" drug policy; while also moving closer to de facto decriminalization (without actually advocating such explicitly) by suggesting that police be instructed to prioritize low-level cannabis offending differently in the course of their duties. They've also suggested that they'll "push" for law reform in post-election coalition negotiations with Labour; although I'm not entirely sure how seriously they intend to do so.

Other points to be considered include the fact taht Green Party cannabis policy at present precludes the set-up and operation of Amsterdam-style Cafes (due to their commitment to maintaining and extending the Smokefree Environments Act 1991 so that it applies not just to the tobacco portion of your spliff); and the seriously bizarre prescriptions in Metiria Turei's last attempted Private Member's Bill on the subject ... which, I kid you not, seriously proposed setting up a medicinal decriminalization program featuring the New Zealand Police confiscating cannabis material off "recreational" users, then distributing it to Green Card (sorry .. Medicinal Cannabis Identification Card according to s9B of said bill) holding citizens so they'll be able to grow their own. Or get somebody to grow on their behalf.

It was clearly going to be an interesting system, and for what it's worth ... while I give Metiria a pass (to the left) for enthusiasm ... I rate her bill as being less progressive and less of an actual solution than Nandor Tanczos's previous effort in this area.

Now my own beloved New Zealand First ... is advocating for a #Reeferendum on the subject, with Winston himself seeing "probative value" in medicinal marijuana. There will be some in the audience who insist that a referendum is a cop-out mechanism (and will assumedly start making Equality of Marriage noises) ... but I would point out that first, a referendum is *exactly* how legalization was achieved in both of Colorado and Washington State; and second, that given the manifest divergence of opinion between New Zealanders and their elected representatives on this issue ... I can well imagine a scenario in which New Zealanders would vote en-masse for the legalization measures that their Parliamentarians would never do likewise for :P

Humorously, this effectively means that the only Party above 5% whom you can vote for on September 20th with a drug law reform policy that's proven to have worked overseas (and which consequently can result in legalization if that's something the people of New Zealand feel they can live with) ... is New Zealand First.

However, as with Harawira, we believe that the most important part of any conversation surrounding the state's role in regulating drugs is that of supporting those who develop issues with drugs through treatment and recovery. One of my proudest accomplishments with NZF thus far has been getting the main party to adopt NZ First Youth's recommendation that we seek to *reverse* the funding cuts National has meted out to addiction and substance abuse services. Needless to say, whomever decided to cut state support for substance addiction and abuse treatment at the same time that synthetic cannabinoids were being legalized, was a class A jackarse.

Of the sub-5 Percenters, the two parties everybody's watching when it comes to cannabis reform are United Future and ACT.

United Future's stance on drugs has been somewhat confusing in recent times, with Dunne appearing to zig-zag more than my rolling papers on what he believes about a whole range of substances ranging from whether synthetic cannabinoids should be legal through to pondering how exactly to justify keeping the evidently much less harmful *real* cannabinoids illicit.

What will he think tomorrow? Let's ask his son, the legal highs industry lobbyist and find out :P

ACT, meanwhile, is branding itself as a classical liberaltarian party which is so incredibly philosophically honest with its supporters, that its leader will quite happily comment to the assembled and waiting news media about how he thinks incest should be more broadly legalized ... yet the party's so incredibly paranoid about breaking its base with a divisive question like this (as happened in 2011 when Don Brash briefly came within striking distance of justifying his existence and resurrecting ACT's political fortunes by advocating decriminalization ... before John Banks declared this would be happening over his, or quite possibly the ACT Party's dead body...) that it's specifically taken cannabis law reform off their policy agenda. You won't find a single mention of cannabis anywhere on their policy site; and the closest it comes to talking about drugs or drug users is when it's blaming them for burglaries.

I shall say that again: A "classical liberal/libertarian" party lead by a philosophy lecturer *so incredibly pure* in his libertarian thought that he doesn't see the problem with advocating for legalized incest in an election year, and who was perfectly happy penning screeds in academic publications about the implicit desirability of liberalizing gun laws and other instances of "paternalizing authoritarianism" such as drug prohibition ... yet who balks at actually turning the most reasonable instance of opposition to the "paternalizing authoritarianism" of "prohibition" into actual policy because he knows that his real views scare even his own voter-base!

The Maori Party doesn't seem to have a policy on this issue, but are more interested in decriminalization rather than legalization.

Colin Craig's Conservative Party is, predictably, violently opposed to any movements in this area. I have noted with some interest that this indicates Craig's opposition to drug law reform effectively trumps the Conservative Party's commitment to Direct Democracy in this area. For persons looking for points of difference between the Cons and NZF ... the fact that NZF is open to listening to the Will of the People in this area, while the Cons aren't, is pretty dang telling.

Oh, and I think the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party *may* possibly want to reform NZ's drug laws surrounding cannabis, but yeah ... these guys are Exactly What It Says On The Tin (ha).

So there you have it. Party Policy on Cannabis, all wrapped up in a tidy zip-lock bag for your easy consumption.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

New Zealand First: Coalition of the Willing and a few Bottom Lines

There is, right now, an absolute metric truck-tonne of misinformation, lies, and willful distortion flying about on social media, in the blogosphere and even in the media and corridors of power about New Zealand First's coalition position. Some of this is the natural result of a semi-competent media underreporting (deliberately or otherwise) what we've actually said on this matter. Unfortunately, a large chunk of the rest can be more easily explained by well-meaning but factually challenged left-wing persons frantically running about engaging in the willful misrepresentation of our coalition stance so as to feather their own nests and bolster the party vote of their own organizations by raiding our constituency and protest-vote.

Such is politics.

But because NZF may very well require your vote in order to hold the balance of political responsibility after the election (and, not coincidentally, implement an economic agenda widely agreed to be to the left of the modern-day Labour Party), you deserve better than spin and distortion.

So here are the facts about NZF's coalition position.

We have set out, at this point in time, SIX bottom lines that any party wishing to form a government with us needs to meet before we'll consider them.

They are:

#Renationalization of those assets just privatized by National.
#KeepIt65 on the retirement age.
#KiwiFund to ensure superannuation is sustainable and to bolster investment in our economy

As you can see, it's a pretty solid list of bottom lines, and has something to represent most flavours of the NZ First ethos. It's also quite probably deliberately designed to offend both Labour *and* National (as there's stuff on there that each side doesn't like), as well as challenging each party to think very seriously about how they can align with our vision for New Zealand, and work with us to improve the country.

To move through them in order, #Renationalization is at the very core of what NZF is about as a Party. We religiously believe in a large and expansive role for the state in the economy - particularly when it comes to essential, strategic and vital services like the generation and distribution of electricity. We are also furiously opposed to asset sales; and unlike virtually every other party in Parliament, we are prepared to stick our Manifesto where our mouth is and actually do something to reacquire these for the benefit of future generations of Kiwis. The state of play on this bottom line is that National is obviously not keen; while Labour's most recent position is that they're torn between saying it's unaffordable given their quixotic commitment to delivering neoliberal surplus (due to a lack of "fiscal headroom") ... and suggesting they'll somehow find the money to make it happen if they need us. (The Greens were running a similar "fiscal responsibility" line some months back, but appear to be increasingly keen on this front)

Next, we have #KeepIt65. Now the close linkage between the GreyPower demographic and NZF obviously needs no introduction here, and I started crowing for joy when Labour announced their idiotic policy of raising the retirement age to 67 for Kiwi workers on grounds that it *would* spook some older voters our way ... but the real impetus of this bottom line is not to safeguard superannuation for the current (or even immediately proximate) generation of Gold Card holders. No, due to Labour's policy tactics, the first generation that will be affected by Labour's policy of raising the retirement age to 67 is actually my own. NZF is therefore attempting to secure exactly the same right to dignity in old age and retirement for *my* generation as it has successfully fought for and protected for those of our parents' and grandparents' generations. Bizarrely, on this score, National is completely cool with keeping the pension age 65, while Labour insists on cleaving to its right-wing and anti-worker policy of raising the age of entitlement. (The Greens, of course, are down with 65)

#KiwiFund is a sovereign wealth fund along the lines of the Singaporean CPF or Norwegian SPF mechanisms, and would seek to simultaneously keep state superannuation payments sustainable by providing additional revenue-streams through better investment and fewer private-sector ticket-clippers; while also remedying the huge economic problem that is an ongoing shortfall of investment monies to help Kiwi business grow, and also providing a coin-reserve for #Renationalization. The state of play on this at present is that National's not particularly keen on the idea, but Labour is open to its further exploration. It would also dovetail quite nicely with the Universal Kiwisaver policy being bandied about. (The Greens have praised this policy as a "move in the right direction", and there are some obvious similarities with the Green Party's proposed Green Development Bank policy)

Meanwhile, the #EndRaceBasedPolicy point is a philosophical stand of opposition to, exactly as it says on the tin, race-based policy. Given National's role in undoing NZF's visionary 2004 action to vest the entire Foreshore & Seabed in the hands of *all* New Zealanders, as well as its enthusiastic endorsement of Whanau Ora, it would seem fair to say that National is not a fan. Labour, by contrast, when they heard about this bottom line was keen to signal a review of Whanau Ora. So Labour is, at least, putting in a bit of effort to grab our attention on this front, even if full coterminity appears unlikely. (The Greens, predictably, are going in completely the opposite direction)

#StopSellingFarmlandOffshore is, again, at the very heart of what New Zealand First is about as a Party. We resolutely believe in New Zealanders owning their own economic destiny and being citizens rather than serfs in our own land. We have opposed consistently and without ethnic fear nor favour the ongoing transfer of our productive wealth - whether farmland, forestry, or fisheries - to offshore interests for 21 years now. Without getting into detail about alternatives to foreign ownership (Winston did moot a sort of nationalization of the Crafar Farms by Landcorp, for instance), this is a stand that is very, very important to us. It's also a policy that Labour and the Greens appear to be mostly down with (albiet with the Labour version, predictably, being weaker and watered down); and one that National (despite the wishes of its farming constituency, one assumes) will NEVER agree to.

Now, the #RoyalCommissionOnDirtyPolitics bottom line, announced just this week, is the one that's caused the most recent controversy over on my Wall. What's happened here is Winston has demanded that a full-scale Royal Commission of Inquiry be convened to look into the #DirtyPolitics imbroglio. We have made this an absolutely "rock solid" bottom line (as befits the importance of this issue to both the election and the New Zealand People), and have requested that the appointment of personnel be done by somebody other than the Prime Minister. It would also seem logical to demand a rather broader question than the tightly defined and highly focused (away from the main target) set of parameters Key's Inquiry will be operating under.

This looks like something *calculated* to annoy National (and, not coincidentally, serve the national interest by taking on National's interests), yet I've seen people who really ought to know better spend a goodly portion of their afternoons trying to seriously advance the idea that "Winston declares necessity for Royal Commission to expose National's corrupt and dodgy actions" is axiomatically the same as "Winston announces marriage proposal to National Party".

That's actually why I was motivated to write this piece in the first place - because there is now so much misinformation, and such a toxic narrative of teleology surrounding our coalition position and negotiations, that people are *actually reading* the announcement of things National *clearly and obviously doesn't want* as NZF attempting to extend an olive branch in their direction.

All I can say about that is ... if you think this is an olive branch we're extending, then prepare to witness somebody being thrashed across the back repeatedly with an olive-branch.

So let's score them up, shall we?

> On #Renationalization, National will not co-operate; but Labour *might*. (The Greens also)
> On #KeepIt65, National *will* co-operate, but Labour won't. (The Greens are being sensible)
> On #KiwiFund, neither National nor Labour seems especially interested, although Labour's "happy to look at the policy". (The Greens are advancing a not entirely dissimilar in objective Green Development Bank, and there are obvious opportunities for cross-polination here; #BlackGreen2014)
> On #EndRaceBasedPolicy, neither side will likely measure up to our specifications; but Labour has, at least, signalled a review of Whanau Ora. (The Greens have their own values on this one, and this is about as far diverged as the Black and the Green get)
> On #StopSellingFarmlandOffshore, Labour and the Greens have already signalled their willingness to consider our bottom line policy; and it is a genuine pleasure, from the NZF perspective, to actually have other parties assisting us in beating the drum about this issue. National, by contrast, continues to sell farmland, forestry and fishing-quota to its rich foreign mates.
> On the #RoyalCommissionOnDirtyPolitics bottom line, National refuses to say whether it's ruling our demand in or out. I haven't yet seen how Labour or the Greens have reacted to Winston's call, but I imagine they would see the utility in *properly* Inquiring into the most turgid political imbroglio of the last five years.

How does that add up?

Labour's down with one of our Bottom Lines straight-up - that of ceasing farmland sales to foreigners. I imagine, given their recent police complaint, that they're also potentially keen for a full Royal Commission on Dirty Politics. They're also open to considering another two, in the form of #Renationalization and #KiwiFund; while signalling a partial amenability to ending race-based policy by initiating a review of Whanau Ora. Unfortunately, there's no sign of them backing away from their decision to raise the retirement age for my generation first. So that's one in favour, one against, and a whole lot of partials that are still somewhat up in the air.

National, by contrast, is *also* in immediate agreement with one of our Bottom Lines - in this case, opposing Labour's right-wing move to increase the age of retirement. Politics, as they say, occasionally makes for strange bedfellows; but given the NZF position of supporting good policy and opposing bad policy - no matter WHERE it comes from, we are fortunate to have support from a large swathe of the rest of the House in opposing the pension age increasing. On literally EVERY SINGLE OTHER bottom line apart from potentially the Royal Commission on Dirty Politics, National is either actively opposed or severely unlikely to be in favour. I'm sure by the end of the month they'll have discounted a proper Royal Commission, too. So that's one in favour, and a whole lot against.

Meanwhile, the Green Party supports at least two of our bottom lines already (#KeepIt65 and #StopSellingFarmlandOffshore); with open praise and support for a third in the form of #KiwiFund. And again, would assumedly be easily able to support a full #RoyalCommissionOnDirtyPolitics. They haven't ruled out #Renationalization, leaving the only serious stumbling block to my glorious #BlackGreen2014 aspirations as each party's rather different and highly differentiated stances on unitary nationalism.

So really, any sane consideration of NZF's bottom lines that actually takes them, and Winston, at his word and at face value ... seemingly inevitably results in the conclusion that a National-NZF government is non-viable at this stage, without National basically transforming into a fundamentally different (#Muldoonist?) party and performing backflips upon command on most of its big-ticket policy agenda.

NZF and Labour are obviously vaguely compatible, and I would additionally point to the litany of NZF policy that mysteriously appears in Labour Party press releases and policy statements as evidence that this is tacitly acknowledged and acted upon by the Redshirts. (Check, for instance, the rather amusing story of NZ First Youth proposing a state-run insurer called KiwiSure to our Party's 2013 Convention Policy Process ... which Winston then liked enough as an idea it made its way straight from being unanimously passed by our Convention into his Closing Address as fully fledged policy. David Cunliffe then got up a week later at his *own* party's Convention and announced a state-run insurer called KiwiAssure. We are given to understand there was some annoyance within Labour that we'd managed to beat them to both the punch, the policy and the more rolls-off-the-tongue name :P)

Meanwhile, out of the parties in Parliament under their own steam (i.e. who've cracked 5%), the party that *actually* seems to be closest and most coterminous to NZF, particularly on the matter of our actually-announced coalition bottom lines ... is the Green Party. I'm sure there are some Greenies and some Blacks out there in the audience who are utterly appalled even by the suggestion :P

In any case, you might be wondering why, if we already appear to be so much closer (i.e. within striking distance, rather than striking at one another) of an alignment with Labour rather than National; why we'd even bother to persist with holding parallel negotiations or not, y'know, just straight-up ruling out the Nats. They are, as I have argued above, furiously unlikely to *ever* accede to more than one or two of our bottom lines.

Well, it's quite simple. We gain more bargaining power with the left-wing option if there are other options (particularly other than Cross-Benches) sitting on the table. From a left-wing perspective, it's therefore perfectly possible to endorse Winston not ruling out Key *just yet* on the basis of perfectly clear bottom lines that Key is perfectly free to accept or reject - purely because when you get right down to it, Winston keeping Key not-ruled-out will be used to force Labour to adopt an economic agenda well to the left of what its present constituency and not-especially-post-Neoliberal Caucus would be prepared to support on their own terms :P (Thanks, Chet)

I shall say that again: Winston *not ruling Key out just yet* is actually a tactic that will enable the forcing of Labour's economic agenda *well to the left*. Hopefully, all going to plan, it'll necessitate Labour dropping its plan to increase the retirement age, and engaging in the #Nationalization of a large swathe of the produtive economy :D And people wonder why I'm a socialist in this Party :P

With all this talk of coalitions, the other salient point to be considered is who's ruled whom out. As it stands at the moment, NZF and the Greens have both ruled each other *in* (so it doesn't look like the 2005 situation of Rod Donald calling Winston Hitler and NZF Nazi, followed up by Winston ruling him out of government in consequence will be re-eventuating), for starters. Beyond that, NZF has ruled out working with both the Maori Party and MANA Party on grounds that neither would be able to abide by our #EndRaceBasedPolicy line (as the Maori Party is, as the name implies, a racially based party; while I can see how the same claim could be levelled at MANA, while also disagreeing that this is actually the case - they've just got a really strong focus in this area); and the ACT Party for being generally economically and socially extremist and having an agenda which, while not putting them *quite* in the "race-based party" camp, does certainly seem devoted almost exclusively to appeasing Whyte people. United Future went out on principle (or, rather, lack thereof); and Hell will acquire an emissions trading scheme before Winston will work with the Conservatives. (Who won't be in Parliament anyway, odds on) In the mean-time, I'm also rather hopeful that Winston not yet explicitly mentioning the Internet Party when talking about who's ruled out means that they're in a different boat to MANA in his eyes. (As opposed to just being a different boat in Georgina Beyer's eyes)

So the other factor for hyperbolic left-wingers paranoid about the possibility of Nat-NZF coalition need to consider is the availability of other support partners. As a wise commentator once said, the first rule of politics is learning how to count; and given we have effectively ruled out working with anybody (including Hone) who's lent Confidence & Supply to the Nats at any point over the previous six years; anybody proposing a Nat-NZF coalition needs to be well mindful of the fact they are proposing *just* a Nat-NZF coalition, without any ACT, UF or Maori Party involvement. While National and NZF *might* have the numbers to govern by themselves, I additionally feel that NZF ruling out all of National's support partners does not exactly make a National-lead government at the end of the year more likely, but rather less.

Finally, we are a party of long (some would say elephantine, or perhaps more accurately, draconic) memory and capacious grudge-bearing capacity. We *remember* just as the Electorate does how we managed to negotiate a coalition deal with the National Party in 1996 which specifically mandated an *end* to Privatization. We also *remember* how the Nats went back on their word on that one, and were even prepared to *roll their Leader* rather than continue to abide by the terms of our agreement. (Wonder if the spectacle of National's Caucus rolling the PM because yon PM wasn't "correctly" managing the relationship with Winston is something that motivated Key to get rid of Collins :P ) Winston even wound up having to publicly *apologize to the nation* for the 1996 National-NZF coalition.

Taking the broader view, we here in NZF are acutely aware that the way National tends to relate to its support parties is a pretty abusive relationship. Admittedly, this isn't always intentional; and it's perfectly possible to lay at least *some* of the blame for each of the Maori Party, ACT and United Future's votes collapsing (by this stage, assuredly into some form of singularity) on each of the Maori Party, ACT and United Future ... but National's actions in getting the Maori Party to vote against its declared "principles" when it came to things like raising GST; or securing United Future's vote for asset sales; or even directly launching a hostile takeover bid of the ACT Party that did even more damage to ACT's brand than even ACT was capable of (a truly heroic feat) all point toward a worrying pattern of smaller parties getting caught up in the mighty gravity well of Planet Key, then shaking themselves (and their constituencies) asunder over the course of their term in office until by next election there's just rag-tag scraps and crumbs trying desperately in vain to justify their "seat at the table" and wholesale enthusiasm for maintaining their "baubles of office".

Why, exactly, do all you ardent rumour-mongers insistent upon the inevitability of NZF-National post-2014 seriously think we'd want a bar of that?

In any case, for us, this frank understanding of the potential dangers of working with National is not exactly vicarious. As quite a few slightly over-egged MANA candidates mad keen on sucking up all the protest votes will tell you, we've also had direct experience with the fallout same here in NZF. Fully three quarters of our members back in 1996 preferred us to work with Labour; and two thirds of our voters expected exactly this to happen. Our share of the vote collapsed from 13% to 2% in a matter of months, and it's a frank miracle that NZF managed to re-enter Parliament in 1999. I don't have to point to poll figures, either, to tell you that the aftermath of that disastrous coalition basically gutted the Party's membership, talent-pool, credibility with voters, and future prospects. We are literally, here in 2014, still labouring to recover the lost ground that we forsook almost twenty years ago! (As sadly proven by the number of voters who *still* refuse to trust Winston because of what happened in 1996, yet mysteriously suffer a John Key-esque brainfade when prodded about NZF working with Labour from 2005-8)

The really sad thing is it wasn't even entirely our fault - the possible governing combinations in 1996 were Labour-NZF-Alliance, National-NZF, or Labour-National (yes, somebody *seriously* proposed a National-Labour Grand Coalition, because the Big Two parties weren't exactly wild about MMP in general and having to work with Winston in particular). The alternative was a Hung Parliament and going back to the polls for another election. As it was, Jim Anderton and the Alliance refused point-blank to work with Labour if their government featured a Winston in it, therefore leaving NZF with the choice of working with National or forcing the country back to the polls.

Given it would quite possibly have been a bit of a body-blow to MMP had NZ's first-ever MMP election produced a Hung Parliament and consequent new election, I can perhaps see (but not agree with) the logic in how things played out.

In any case, the million dollar question (or, if you prefer, four million citizen question) this Election is shaping up to be "Who will Winston go with". Personally, I am noting with approval The Chief's noises, growing slowly louder in volume, about casting a "plague on both your houses" and making for the Cross-Benches rather than work with either side. This is a principled position, particularly given the fact that neither main party looks likely to accede to *all* our bottom lines; and would also afford us the freedom to vote "issue-by-issue". Considering NZF is supposed to be all about "supporting good policy and opposing bad policy *no matter where it comes from*", the cross-benches thus make sense as a home for us.

If you've by some Herculean (or, if you prefer, Winstonian) feat of political endurance managed to make it to the end of this tract; I hope it's been informative. It's occasionally a really tough feeling in politics, having to swim against a seemingly overwhelming tide of willful misinformation and speculation; but making sure that voters are informed about what parties *have actually said* and *are actually likely to do* is vitally important to the functioning of any democracy.

Unfortunately, I cannot rule out, on behalf of my party, *any* form of co-operation with National after this election. I'm not empowered to do that, and in any case, it's not how NZF's ethos and vibe works. But what I can do, and what I hopefully have done here is to set out for you under exactly what terms NZF will countenance working with *any* party after the election - blue, red, or even Green; and also the state of play at present about how close each of the Big Two is to being in a position to be able to form a government with us. In case you missed it ... only the Green Party seems to be even remotely in contention at the moment; with Labour a distant second depending upon how they decide to jump on some of our bottom lines that they're presently unsure about but potentially "open" to. National just genuinely doesn't seem to be making any but the most cosmetic of efforts to meet our demands. And why would they - if they went with us ... crazy, renationalizing, nationalist, spendthrift, calling-Key-a-liar-and-scalping-at-least-one-Nat-Minister-a-year us ... they'd implode as a party and as a government within a year. The only people likely to be *less* enthused about a Nat-NZF coalition than ardent left-wingers are the neoliberal rightists who form the very upper echelons of National that we'd have to work with in the first place!

Personally, I just can't wait until we no longer have to form coalitions around the axial of the neoliberal "major" parties so that I can get my #BlackGreen2014 on and get down to the serious task of ending Neoliberalism in New Zealand with support partners who *actually understand that's what needs to happen* ... but that's a task for the future.

In the mean-time, I'm running a series of continuous Ask Me Anythings about NZF pretty much from now until September 20th. If you've got a question about NZF - our policy, coalition stances, history, ethos, Winston's favourite brand of cigarettes ... anything at all ... don't hesitate to hit me up on social media via facebook (Curwen Ares Rolinson) or twitter (@huntersrolinson).

I am committed to getting an accurate picture of NZF out there into the electorate.