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.

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